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GROUP TO PURCHASE, PRESERVE SANTA CRUZ SITE.

Byline: Paul Rogers Knight-Ridder Tribune News Wire

In a landmark victory for open space advocates, a San Francisco-based conservation group has secured a deal to purchase the 2,319-acre Gray Whale Ranch along Santa Cruz County's scenic north coast and open it for public use as a state park.

Ending nearly 10 years of environmental battles, the Save-the-Redwoods-League reached an agreement to buy the rustic property from Ron Yanke, an Idaho lumberman who offered it for sale this spring at $14.5 million. Yanke had planned as recently as 1994 to build a gated housing subdivision, swimming complex and equestrian center on the ranch but was met with staunch opposition from coastal residents, who collected 3,000 signatures on a petition opposing the project.

``Clearly it's the most significant acquisition we've made around Monterey Bay in years,'' said Donald Murphy, California's state parks director.

Parties declined to release the purchase price, though sources said it was near the amount Yanke sought. Nearly all the money will come from major donors who have contributed to the Save-The-Redwoods-League, said Mary Angle-Franzini, the group's executive director.

In recent months, other potential buyers came forward. A Beverly Hills developer hoped to build a golf course there, a rural California family hoped to open a cattle ranch and a prominent Silicon Valley computer mogul inquired about building a single estate home on the property, real estate agents and others close to the deal have said.

``It is a special piece of property,'' said Greg Lansberry, controller at Yanke Machine Shop in Boise. ``We thought that selling it to Save-The-Redwoods-League would be a nice legacy for everybody.''

Once owned by 19th century land baron Henry Cowell, Gray Whale Ranch includes redwood forests, oak woodlands, meadows and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Because the ranch lies between Wilder Ranch State Park and the University of California, Santa Cruz campus, the purchase creates a 7-mile unbroken corridor for wildlife, hikers, bikers and horse riders from Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park near Felton to the Pacific Ocean.

``We're no longer concerned with purchasing small, pretty places, then putting fences around them and calling them parks,'' Murphy added in an interview Wednesday. ``We're trying to preserve whole watersheds and ecosystems. That's what's most important about this piece of the puzzle.''

The ranch is home to eagles, mountain lions, deer, bats and several endangered species, including the red-legged frog.

With the acquisition, the string of protected lands totals about 13,000 acres, a preserve eight times the size of the core campus at Stanford University, yet located within two miles of downtown Santa Cruz.

``This is an exceptional opportunity,'' said Angle-Franzini. ``Particularly so close to an urban area.''

The only public money involved is $1 million pledged by the state parks department, said Murphy. Those funds will come from the sale of personalized license plates and several other sources, he said.

The land will be open to the public sometime next spring, probably April, said Angle-Franzini, after escrow closes and her group donates the property to the state parks department.

Murphy said he has no plans for campgrounds on the property. State officials probably will add it to Wilder Ranch State Park - a 4,505-acre coastal park created in 1974 that is popular across Northern California with mountain bikers and horse riders.

One of California's oldest conservation groups, the Save-the-Redwoods-League was founded in 1918. The group has preserved about 160,000 acres of redwood forests and other lands for parks across the state.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 20, 1996
Words:583
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