Excelsior is one of the most beautiful pieces of land I’ve ever set eyes on — 923 acres with ponds, cliffs, breathtaking views and the lower Yuba River flowing through it. Located north of Smartsville, the land had been virtually abandoned after the end of hydraulic mining in 1884, operating sporadically as a quarry and lightly grazed by cattle.
Recovering from the Past:
I was astonished at how the land had healed itself. Devastated by the hydraulic miners, but then left untouched for over a century, the property was rich in wetlands and wildlife.
The Making of a Conservation Plan:
As of 2010, however, the property was at considerable risk. Located on highway 20, and zoned for 5 acre development, Excelsior had recently changed hands. Our company moved quickly to negotiate an Option to Buy with the new owner, and began discussions with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Wildlife Conservation Board, and the Trust for Public Lands. We also began exploring a range of limited development options, which might generate resources to conserve the resource-rich lower elevations through limited development of the upland areas.
The Final Plan:
By the end of 2010 we recorded a new map for the property with Yuba County and reached an agreement with the Wildlife Conservation Board, in collaboration with the Trust for Public Lands, to purchase 530 acres of the property — the Yuba Narrows Ranch. Subsequent agreements with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Bear Yuba Land Trust, to purchase the Black Swan Ranch and Excelsior Ranch 6, allowed us to limit development of the entire property to only ten ranches on 215 acres.
The Final Result:
Thanks to our partners — the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Bear Yuba Land Trust, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Trust for Public Lands, over seven hundred acres is now protected in perpetuity and is accessible to the public, for hiking, fishing, bird watching, and horseback riding. Six of the ten ranches have been sold, and the property owners are looking forward to stewarding the magnificent open space that surrounds them. All in all, a successful and gratifying demonstration of collaborative conservation!