In the heart of the southern Santa Lucia Range, the Santa Rita Ranch sits at the top of Highway 46 West between the Pacific Ocean and Templeton. On Dec. 29, 2020, this 1,715-acre property was purchased and permanently protected by The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County (LCSLO), a non-profit land trust.
This conservation effort began in 2018 when LCSLO partnered with The Conservation Fund, a national environmental non-profit, to help protect this incredible ranch. As the property was being actively marketed and LCSLO needed time to raise money for the purchase, they asked The Conservation Fund to step in. The Fund was able to negotiate and acquire the ranch in May 2020 and then held the property for the remainder of the year.
Faced with a December deadline to buy the ranch, LCSLO’s staff and board worked quietly and diligently to secure almost three-quarters of the $8 million purchase price. This funding included a $3.94 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board’s Streamflow Enhancement Program. The organization borrowed from internal reserves to complete the purchase and conserve the Santa Rita Ranch forever. LCSLO continues to seek donations to fully fund this remarkable conservation project.
The Santa Rita Ranch features towering valley oaks, dense bay laurel forests, and a remarkable freshwater lake. In addition to the ranch’s lush hardwood forests, serpentine outcrops dot the property’s grasslands and support a variety of rare and endemic flowering plants and succulents. Santa Rita Creek – the ranch’s namesake – forms its headwaters here on its way to the Salinas River.
The property is now permanently protected through LCSLO’s ownership. The organization will maintain the property as a wildlife preserve, sustainable working cattle ranch, and future nature education center. LCSLO will continue to lease the land to a rancher who grew up on the property and has run cattle there for many years. This partnership is in alignment with LCSLO’s mission to support local agriculture and will ensure the ranch remains sustainably grazed.
“The Santa Rita Ranch is a beautiful place full of wildlife, stunning vistas, abundant water, and charismatic oak trees,” says Kaila Dettman, Executive Director of LCSLO. “Ferns grow on the slopes among the bay laurel and madrone, and cattle happily graze its fields. The moment we set foot on this land we knew it was special, and we are so excited to share the news that we have protected it forever. I am forever grateful to all our supporters who made this possible.”
LCSLO has permanently protected nearly 4,000 acres in SLO County in the last seven months. This includes purchase of the Santa Rita Ranch as part of a larger 6,000-acre conservation effort along Highway 46 West. Conserving these working ranches is part of the organization’s greater vision to help shape the future of the Adelaide region of our County.
The Conservation Fund California State Director, Steve Hobbs says: “LCSLO’s vision and efforts to conserve the unique landscape of the Adelaide region are ambitious but critical. Santa Rita Ranch is one of the area’s most beautiful and ecologically important properties, and it was our pleasure to partner once again with LCSLO—after providing bridge financing for the Pismo Preserve infrastructure—to protect the Santa Rita Ranch.”
To celebrate the purchase, the San Luis Outdoor Painters for the Environment (SLOPE) will be hosting a virtual art show from Jan. 28th to Feb. 28th with paintings from the ranch, which they were able to visit last fall.
Laurel Sherrie, a 16-year member of the art group said “Hearing about the Land Conservancy’s Santa Rita Ranch project was exciting, and for SLOPE to be invited to paint there was thrilling! Exploring the ranch and being on site to put it to canvas, to put our efforts into helping in this endeavor is extremely meaningful and gives purpose to our art.”
You can find more details about the art exhibit and tune in to the opening event here and view footage of the ranch here.
To make a tax-deductible charitable donation to support the Santa Rita Ranch, individuals and businesses can make an online donation on The Land Conservancy’s website at LCSLO.org or call Kaila Dettman, Executive Director, at 805-544-9096.
The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County is a community-supported local nonprofit land trust working to conserve and care for the diverse wildlands, farms, and ranches of the Central Coast, connecting people to the land and to each other. The land trust helps to protect drinking water sources, prevent poorly planned development, restore wildlife habitat, promote family farmlands and ranches in our region, and connect people of all ages and backgrounds to the land. The Land Conservancy leads collaborative efforts which have resulted in the permanent protection over 26,500 acres of land in San Luis Obispo County since 1984.