Gigantic ranch enters recreation area's fold 

One would think that the National Park Service would jump at the chance to take over 4,000 acres of undeveloped land — especially when that land comes very cheaply and sits just seven miles south of the San Francisco border.

In fact, the National Park Service did jump at that chance — it’s just that the leap took about 10 years to complete.

After a decade of planning, testifying before Congress, and begging for funding, the 3,800-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra is finally scheduled to be turned over to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The transfer is scheduled for Jan. 1 and the Park Service hopes to immediately open the property to the public, allowing exploration of a rudimentary system of trails. Park officials are also exploring what it would take to construct camping facilities or an interpretive center on the property.

“This is a really big deal for us,” said Brian Aviles, a senior planner for the parks system. “It’s not every day that we can add 4,000 acres to a national park.”

The property sits just south of Devil’s Slide and soars from nearly sea level up 2,000 feet to the peak of Montara Mountain.

The story goes that Rancho Corral de Tierra was named by early Spanish colonists, who noted that the soaring bowl of mountains made a natural place to heard cattle — the bovine couldn’t wander too far because they were reined in by the “corral de tierra,” or earthen corral.

Miraculously, some 170 years after the land was given in a Mexican Land Grant to a rancher, the property has never been developed. That unpopulated state was threatened in the late 1990s, when owners put the property on the market and looked to sell it to developers.

However, nonprofit land conservancy group Peninsula Open Space Trust negotiated to purchase the property for about $30 million — some $20 million shy of the original asking price.

That success was lauded at the time and POST officials immediately made it clear they hoped to turn the land over to the federal government for half the price they had purchased it for, but it in fact took 10 more years for that to happen, POST spokeswoman Nina Nowak said.

“We purchased the property in 2001, so that gives you an idea of how long it takes to transfer land into the National Park Service,” she said.

First, Congress and the president had to approve the expansion of GGNRA borders to include the land, and then the government had to come up with the $15 million. So far, about $12 million has been allocated, and another $3 million is expected this year.

The national park has been granted an extra $500,000 a year to hire people to manage the 4,000 acres, and has asked for more for the coming years, according to Aviles and spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet.

“This is something we’re going to grow into,” Aviles said. “Our goal is to have this area really be the southern portal into the GGNRA.”

History of Rancho Corral de Tierra

1839: The Mexican government gave the Rancho Corral de Tierra to Francisco Guerrero y Palomares in a land grant.
2001: Peninsula Open Space Trust announced it had purchased the property for about $30 million and it planned to sell the property to the National Park Service for half that price.
2005: Congress and President George W. Bush expanded the allowed boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to include the Rancho land.
December 2007: Congress allocated the first $1.96 million to purchase the property.
March 2009: Another $6 million allocation came through.
October 2009: A third allocation was granted, for $4 million.
2010: Congress must still allocate $3 million, which is expected later this year.
January 1, 2011: The turnover is expected to occur and the property will open to the public.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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Katie Worth

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