$500K Grant to Protect Piedras Blancas (CA)

San Francisco, CA, November 15, 2005 – The Trust for Public Land announced today that Congress approved $500,000 in federal funding for the permanent public protection of Piedras Blancas. These National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds were appropriated for the protection of Piedras Blancas through the efforts of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Lois Capps.

This 20-acre coastal bluff is the sole point of public beach access currently available along a 17-mile stretch of the famed Hearst coastline. For 50 years, Piedras Blancas, a privately owned resort including a motel, caf?, gift shop, and gas station located just seven miles north of Hearst Castle, was the only facility serving visitors along the stretch of highway between Ragged Point and San Simeon. In May 2005, the Trust for Public Land acquired the property to protect Piedras Blancas from expanded development and provide access to the coast for the benefit of the public. Since that time, TPL has raised $2.8 million in public funds. An additional $2.2 million is needed by September 2006 to close the gap.

“This is the last remaining unprotected private land west of Highway one,” Senator Feinstein said. “So I am pleased to play a role in a public-private partnership to preserve this land and protect public access and incredible vistas.”

“California State Park officials have long dreamed of being able to acquire, preserve, and interpret scenic Piedras Blancas along the coast near Hearst Castle,” said Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks. “Having public ownership of this extraordinary meeting of land and sea is truly a dream come true for the people of California. It is also the missing “puzzle piece” of the California Coastal Trail.”

“As a community, we have a sacred duty to make sure our spectacular and rare natural resources are maintained for future generations,” Congresswoman Capps said. “Purchasing this land will guarantee that this scenic jewel remains available for our residents and tourists for years to come.”

Just 6 months ago, the fate of this stunning natural resource was uncertain. When Piedras Blancas’ owners decided to sell their land, the property’s future—and access to its beautiful coastal bluff and beaches—was unknown . After several attempted and failed transactions, in February 2005 the California State Coastal Conservancy asked the Trust for Public Land for help. By March 2005, TPL signed a deal to buy the property for $4.5 million providing TPL could close the deal by mid-May.

“Fortunately, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation provided a loan to TPL to acquire the property,” says Reed Holderman, executive director of the Trust for Public Land—California. “Thanks to the Packard Foundation, we were able to make it happen in such a short timeframe.” On May 17, 2005, TPL purchased Piedras Blancas to protect it from development and is now raising the funds to pay off the loan and transfer title to State Parks.

“Piedras Blancas is a beautiful area,” says Sam Schuchat, executive director of the Coastal Conservancy, which has pledged $2 million in state funding for the protection of the property and $100,000 for interim management. “There’s so much potential here. We applaud TPL for stepping in and helping rescue this property until public funds could be secured to transfer the property into public ownership”

Piedras Blancas is completely surrounded by the Hearst property, which was protected in early 2005 when the State of California purchased development rights on much of 82,000 acres of Hearst land east of Highway One and acquired 13 miles of shoreline west of the highway. A management plan to open the entire stretch of coast to the public could take State Parks and the Hearst Corporation up to five years to implement. Until then, Piedras Blancas will be the public’s sole safe access point for hiking along the bluff and down to the beach.

Public hearings will help determine the next phase of Piedras Blancas’ management. Possibilities include the creation of environmentally friendly campsites and renovating the existing buildings into a visitor’s center, caf?, and low-cost accommodations.

“It’s exciting to see everything come to fruition,” adds Sam Blakeslee, a state assembly member who represents the area. “Piedras Blancas will become a destination for Californians and visitors from around the world.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to preserving land of recreational, ecological, and historical value for the public. TPL works with local, state, and federal agencies and grassroots community groups to protect open space nationwide. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has protected nearly 2 million acres valued at more than $3.5 billion nationwide. For more information regarding TPL’s work on the Central Coast, please visit our website at www.tpl.org/cal.