A 14-year-old effort to conserve 2,400 acres of coastal open space became all but a lost cause due to delays in state funding needed to close the $21 million deal. The purchase of Wild Cherry Canyon by the SLO Land Conservancy and partnering groups would have allowed for the extension of Montaña de Oro State Park all the way to Avila Beach.
The State Public Works Board, which oversees the operation of state parks, scheduled an item to discuss allocating the $6.9 million missing from the agreed-upon purchase price. Less than two years after a state parks budget crisis threatened to shutter 70 California parks, the board appeared on the verge of actually adding parkland.
Organizers remained cautiously optimistic through the winter that the state would deliver the needed funding. However, the investors that hold tenancy over the property for the next 150 years decided in January not to renew the organizers’ options to purchase the leaseholds. Lead organizer Kara Blakeslee spent several weeks unsuccessfully trying to get the investors to change their minds.
“For the first time ever, the stars had aligned in bringing this together,” Blakeslee said. “Heartbreaking is the word I keep using—it feels that way.”
Plans to expand Montaña de Oro by 5,500 acres—about 65 percent of the current park size—called for the incorporation of Wild Cherry Canyon and a few neighboring properties into the state parks system. The local land conservancy already owns Hibberd Preserve, which borders Wild Cherry Canyon to the north. Organizers planned to eventually purchase the underlying title to Wild Cherry Canyon from Pacific Gas and Electric.
The project would have linked Avila Beach to Los Osos with 20 miles of publicly accessible ocean vista trails.