After more than 20 years in the planning and two years in negotiation, the City of SLO has completed the acquisition of the 154-acre Waddell Ranch.
The property will eventually be annexed into the Irish Hills Natural Reserve as part of the City’s greenbelt, but for the moment the area is much too soggy for residents to enjoy, and the hiking trails that would allow access for a view have been closed by weeks of intermittent rain.
“It’s hard to speculate what might have happened without the preservation agreement,” said the City’s Natural Resources Manager, Bob Hill. “Three lots were available on the property that could have been developed.”
The conservation project was a collaboration between the City, the Trust for Public Land, and, said Hill, the property owner, Duane Waddell.
“We reached out about two years ago now and he responded positively,” Hill said, noting that the property is directly at the headwaters of Froom Creek and the area was ideal for wildlife as well as greenbelt preservation.
“We’ve been up there to see it for ourselves a lot,” he said, but with 154 acres to explore there are also unknowns to the property. “Our first priority is making sure it’s safe before public use. Then a conservation plan will need to be drafted and approved [by the SLO City Council].”
Since the property abuts the existing reserve, the City’s park rangers and planners are most excited about the opportunity to finish a loop trail through the area, with views all the way to the ocean, similar to the Felsman Loop Trail and the climb up Bishop Peak.
“There are some funds set aside for trails,” said Hill, “But our rangers do most of that work with volunteers. We have a network of very skilled volunteers.”
That work would be expected to take place sometime this summer, with the fist openings to the public a bit earlier in the spring.
“The property is a small piece of old California,” Hill added, “and we are grateful to Mr. Waddell for his past stewardship and commitment to ensuring that this special land will remain open and wild forever.”
SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon meanwhile, called the $1.1 million purchase agreement, an “exciting” use of funds from the City’s extra half-percent sales tax measure, coupled with grants from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the California Natural Resources Agency.