More than 1,000 acres of pristine open space – the “heart” of Mt. Diablo – has been added to the protected lands owned and managed by Save Mount Diablo in one of the organization’s most important land acquisitions in its history.
Seth Adams, lands program director for SMD, surprised audiences at a Wednesday night event at the Lesher Center with the announcement that the organization had purchased the historic 1,080-acre Curry Canyon Ranch from Ettore and Geraldine Bertagnolli for $7.2 million. The acquisition is the biggest in both cost and size in the organization’s 43-year history of aggressively protecting open space from development. It has been a top priority acquisition for the past 25 years.
“It is the single most important, spectacular resource property remaining in Contra Costa County,” said SMD Executive Director Ron Brown.
More than three miles wide with eight miles of fire roads, Curry Canyon Ranch is bordered on three sides by Mt. Diablo State Park. The acquisition will close the open space gaps between Rock City and Diablo’s main peak and will provide a connection to Highland Ridge. The property includes Windy Point, Knobcone Point and Cave Point, at 2080-feet, the ranch’s highest elevation.
“This property is a Shangri-La of sycamore-lined creeks, lush canyons studded with house-sized boulders rising from a fragrant isolated valley to exposed grassland ridges, with incredible views, bordered by a mile of rocky cliffs and wind caves,” said Adams. “Its dry rocky areas look like Pinnacles National Park or the Mojave dessert. Its canyons could be the wet Pacific Northwest.”
A jaw-dropping tour of the property with Adams and Brown took a full three hours.
The property is home to more than 30 rare or threatened species, including the peregrine falcon, the Alameda whipsnake and the California tiger salamander. When California condors return to Mt. Diablo, it will likely be to Curry Canyon’s knobcone cliffs.
The Curry Canyon Ranch was in the path of the recent Morgan Fire, which burned more than 3,100 acres on Mt. Diablo. The property was threatened, but untouched by the fire that stopped a half mile short.
Standing at the top of Knobcone Point, Adams gazed out over the canyon toward the charred hills. “There are wildflowers that only bloom after a fire,” he said. “They’re called fire flowers. This place will be ablaze in the spring.”
Curry Canyon Ranch is accessible only from Morgan Territory Road. The property begins at the Bertagnolli ranch house at the end of a private road. Save Mount Diablo plans to convert the house to an event center.
Public tours of the property will begin next year, Adams said.
Historically, Save Mount Diablo has acquired properties and then transferred them to park agencies. Curry Canyon Ranch has been on the state park priority list for decades. But any funds that might have been available to buy it dried up in the recent economic downturn. So SMD will own and manage Curry Canyon Ranch until it can be transferred to the state – probably in phases over several years.
The $7.2 million purchase loan must be paid off in three years. The Coastal Conservancy and a private foundation have committed $4.2 million. The rest will depend on individual donations.
Save Mount Diablo is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to preserving open space. For more information, or to donate, visit SaveMountDiablo.org or call 925-947-3535. Offices are at 1901 Olympic Blvd., Suite 320, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.