High above the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur sits the Glen Deven Ranch, which features pristine grasslands and woodlands and stunning views of the fog and sea below. In the Santa Lucia foothills, a verdant 1,057 tract called Mitteldorf Preserve looks as if it’s an ancient, enchanted forest—“Middle Earth,” as my family calls it. Thanks to the Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT) these and other majestic properties in our region have been preserved for the protection of the land and the enjoyment and education of the public.
Founded in 1978, BSLT is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire a love for the land and conservation of the area’s treasured landscapes. They invite people to join them outdoors, engage in conversations about the land, and instill a spirit of stewardship that will be handed down for generations.
Over the past 38 years they have conserved over 40,000 acres throughout Monterey County. “While we do a lot of traditional land conservation work in transferring lands to public agencies, such as state parks and regional parks, we value private land ownership and want to be able to keep ranchers and land owners on the land,” says Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis, President and CEO of BSLT.
“Everyone deserves beautiful places. Everyone should have access to parks and special open spaces,” she says, adding that community access is a high priority.
Glen Deven, a coastal property south of Carmel, is one such special place. In 2001
Dr. Seeley Mudd and his wife Virginia bequeathed the 860-acre property to BSLT to both conserve and inspire. Tuitele-Lewis describes how Virginia Mudd’s dream was for the Ranch to share the landscape with people. Mudd’s dream and BSLT’s mission align perfectly at Glen Deven. Throughout the summer, the Ranch hosts nature camps that are largely attended by teens from the Salinas Valley.
“Many of these kids don’t have access to have outdoor experiences,” Tuitele-Lewis says. “Ours is not a traditional environmental program. We focus on the whole child and a connection to the land. Kids need time outdoors.”
Some of the time at camp is structured, some unstructured. “We aim to give them time to wonder and see the possibilities in these magnificent landscapes.”
BSLT’s work is necessarily long-term. While looking ahead for a decade, or five, and even a century, they focus on multi-benefit, large-scale projects that benefit the community. Two projects in the works are the Carmel River Floodplain Restoration and Environmental Enhancement Project—known as Carmel River FREE—and the Carr Lake Project.
Carmel River FREE will reduce flood impact to neighborhoods, restore acres of habitat, and provide trails connecting to adjacent lands. It was conceived after severe flooding in the 1990s, and made possible with a donation by Clint and Margaret Eastwood.
Carr Lake in the heart of Salinas is actually a drained lakebed currently used for farming. BSLT anticipates acquiring a 73-acre property within Carr Lake and turning into a park. Tuitele-Lewis says that Salinas has long been parks-poor and since the 1970s, the city has envisioned transforming the former lakebed into a park.
This project gives BSLT an opportunity to support the people and the land and to involve the entire community. In addition to transforming the area into a park, the project will restore historical wetlands, capture stormwater, and improve the quality of water running into the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “Ultimately, we won’t be the long-term owner, but will help facilitate the city’s dream and improve the quality of life in our diverse communities,” Tuitele-Lewis explains.
When the Carr Lake acquisition is complete, BSLT will begin an extensive conversation with organizations, neighborhoods, officials, and others to identify and prioritize wants and needs. This is just one more project that reflects BSLT’s deep-rooted commitment to caring for places where people and nature thrive throughout Monterey County.
BSLT’s resiliency and ability to serve the needs of the region were apparent during the Soberanes Fire this summer.
The Glen Deven Ranch has historically partnered with its neighbors to serve as an emergency way station for the residents of Palo Colorado during fires or floods. Tuitele-Lewis says, “The Ranch was integral to defending the canyon during the fire. You can see the drastic, beautiful, scary power of fire. It’s a reminder that we are vulnerable.”
While BSLT focuses on raising visibility and building awareness of their organization, they offer unique opportunities for donors to see their mission in action, including hikes throughout their properties.
Special events give guests rare perspectives on the conserved properties. A recent collaboration with Outstanding in the Field afforded diners the chance to enjoy a magical evening atop a ridge at Glen Deven. And their volunteer activities allow people to take a hands-on approach to the meaningful conservation and stewardship efforts of the BSLT.
Big Sur Land Trust