When we closed on the third and final property needed to build the Highway 17 Wildlife Crossing Monday, I exhaled a huge sigh of relief.
The Wildlife Crossing project really represents the high-risk culture of the Land Trust. It’s unusual for instance for a Land Trust to build a new trail network – another of our major projects. But to spearhead a project that involves protecting three properties, building a wildlife tunnel under a major state highway, with the participation of state and local governments and millions of dollars in local support – that’s risk upon risk.
We take big risks to get BIG gains. Our donors took the risks with us. The wildlife crossing project is by far the most popular project we’ve done to date.
When the first 10-acre parcel at Laurel Curve hit the market at the end of 2013, we couldn’t believe our luck. It was right where our studies told us the tunnel should be built. As a natural drainage and wildlife movement corridor, it’s where nearly half the wildlife are hit and killed on Highway 17.
With an Opportunity Fund, raised as part of our 10,000 Acres Campaign, we were able to move quickly to secure the property. The following year, with the help of 2,000 donors, we protected the adjacent 280-acre property. Monday, we finished the land protection phase of the wildlife crossing project, with the protection of the 170-acre Marywood property.
Our big risk and big gain has an impact beyond even our county. Laurel Curve tunnel will be the second purpose-built crossing in California. This project is inspiring similar projects across the state – another at Lexington Reservoir on Highway 17 and one over “the 101” in LA.
The next step for the Laurel Curve project is to design the tunnel. Tunnel design will cost $3.1 million, and the California Transportation Commission is footing the whole bill. With $5 million from Measure D and funds from our Great Land & Trail Campaign, the tunnel could be built by 2020.
That’s light speed pace for state agencies. I credit our members for the motivation. Your donations and votes on the transportation measure are making this high-risk project a reality – thank you!