Paying respect to the land which we occupy is a vital part of modern living, particularly within the historic terrains of Northern California. In order to preserve this expansive history, we as a society must sustain a mission to unwaveringly protect, care for and connect future generations of people to the extraordinary lands that make Santa Cruz County Special.
This commendable mission is what the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has been steadfastly promoting for almost 45 years. Since its founding in 1978, the Land Trust has been working to maintain the immensely diverse ecosystems which cement Santa Cruz County in a league of its own. Our wild and working forests, our beaches and coastline, the globally unique biotic habitats and the County’s rich farming & ranching heritage are all components worthy of being preserved forever.
The Land Trust protects both working lands, like farms and timberland, and natural lands with high conservation value to protect water supplies, wildlife habitats, and open space. By protecting land and creating opportunities for people to engage with wilderness, the Land Trust ensures that all facets of our county’s incredible open spaces will continue to play a foundational role in the identity of generations to come. By creating connections for wildlife, we’re protecting the unique biodiversity and landscapes that are integral to the identity of our community.
Through the Nature Connection Campaign, the Land Trust is building over 15 miles of trails across the county; completing construction of the Highway 17 undercrossing and protecting land for a second crossing over Highway 101, and setting the stage for a community harvest trail system for K-12 students to learn about wetland restoration and sustainable agriculture.
Read on to learn more about the incredible efforts being made by the Land Trust in past and coming years.
The Nature Connection CampaignThe Land Trust’s Nature Connection Campaign will fund work throughout Santa Cruz County – and in San Benito and Monterey counties. These projects include the protection of 4,000 acres of wildlands, the building of one wildlife crossing (under Highway 17), and protecting land for a second wildlife crossing (under Highway 101).
San Vincente Redwoods
After ten years of planning and permitting, a pandemic, and a devastating fire, the Land Trust is excited to soon open San Vicente Redwoods to visitors! Over 2,000 people have registered for San Vicente Redwoods trail passes in anticipation of the trail system opening in December.
At 8,500 acres, San Vicente Redwoods is the largest private property in Santa Cruz County. Our first phase of trails includes 6.5 miles of trails for hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. The area provides critical habitat to mountain lions and other wildlife. Our trails were designed to avoid core habitat zones and are located on less than 10% of the land, leaving lots of room for the animals who make their homes there.
To honor the native people of San Vicente Redwoods, we will be naming the trails in the Awaswas language. The language is quite phonetically different from English or Spanish so we will include the Awaswas word, its meaning, and how to pronounce the word on each sign. Awaswas is no longer spoken, so we hope to keep it alive in our small way.
Watsonville Slough Farm Trails
The Land Trust acquired the 500-acre Watsonville Slough Farm in 2010 with the support of ten partner organizations and funding from the State Coastal Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board. 16 Pajaro Valley schools visit our Watsonville Slough Farm trails annually to learn about wildlife ecosystems and habitat restoration through our partnership with Watsonville Wetlands Watch.
Our plans for preservation include community harvest areas where visitors can pick fresh fruit and picnic. In addition to the chance to experience sustainable agriculture firsthand, we hope this will help address the issue of food insecurity in our community. We have also dedicated a portion of the land to producing healthy food at reduced cost to local families through our partnership with Esperanza Community Farms.
Plans for facilities include boardwalks and viewing platforms that will allow guests to access harvest areas while experiencing firsthand the results of our wetland restoration work and see how we strike a balance between productive agriculture and habitat conservation.
Laurel Curve Wildlife Crossing on Highway 17
The formidable population of mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains has become dangerously at risk. We know that they are becoming inbred because they can’t connect to other populations in the Gabilan Range. And we know that Laurel Curve is a very significant site of mountain lion mortality.
To help resolve this issue, the Land Trust has protected over 700 acres from development on either side of Route 17 in order to rewrite the narrative of what happens when wildlife encounter the highway with the creation of the Laurel Curve Wildlife Crossing. Wildlife tracks have already been found moving through the Highway 17 undercrossing, which is being completed in December.
Rocks Ranch Wildlife Crossing on Highway 101
While we are ecstatic that the Highway 17 undercrossing will be completed this year, helping mountain lions safely across Highway 17 is just the first step. As they make their way to the Gabilan Range, Highway 101 gives rise to a second deadly chokepoint. Some who make it over the treacherous Highway 17 die tragically as they try to cross these four lanes of fast-moving traffic.
The massive undeveloped landscape of Rocks Ranch spans one side of Highway 101 and opens directly into the Gabilan Range, creating the perfect passage for wildlife seeking unobstructed access to open space and breeding grounds. Securing this property is critical to creating a second wildlife crossing to safely continue their journey.
Caltrans has issued a Project Initiation document, which will expedite the creation of a second wildlife crossing across HWY 101. Their leap of faith is dependent on our ability to protect Rocks Ranch. Protecting this 2,600-acre ranch will complete safe passage and ensure the genetic health of the mountain lions that range throughout our region.
The Nature Connections Campaign ends on December 31st and you can help us finish strong! An anonymous donor has stepped forward with a $500,000 1-1 match to bring the community together in a final campaign push. Any gift made between now and December 31st will be doubled!
We are honored to share your vision for Santa Cruz County’s people and wildlife. Together, we are creating a shared sense of place that connects us all to the incredible lands surrounding us.