Over the years, local surfers, picnicking families, and even ravers have used the seven beaches on former dairy farm land known as Coast Dairies eight miles north of Santa Cruz. But those strips of sand—a sliver of the newly protected 7,000 acres of Coast Dairies land surrounding the town of Davenport—have only recently become official public beaches.
When the Trust for Public Land (TPL) bought Coast Dairies in 1998, the property was on the verge of becoming a personal playground for 139 homeowners. Instead, it has become one of the largest coastal properties in California to both receive permanent protection and provide public access. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation played a major role by supplying more than half of the purchase price. The Coastal Conservancy, Save the Redwoods League, and individual donors came up with the rest of the $44 million cost.
“It’s a gorgeous piece of California landscape. It’s amazing that a place so undisturbed and natural is so close to our urban areas,” says Reed Holderman, executive director for TPL-California. The 407 acres of rocky coastline and coastal bluffs will be managed by the state, while the forested 5,701 inland acres will be run by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The remaining acreage will continue to be farmed. Six creeks run through the property, including Laguna Creek, the southernmost coho salmon spawning stream in the country.
Dave Vincent, superintendent of California State Park’s Santa Cruz district, is charged with getting the beaches ready for public use. “We’re excited. It’s one of the last remaining large chunks of undeveloped land on California’s coast,” he says. But access might take a while: Though funding is earmarked in the budget, it will be several years before the trails, stairways, and staff are up and running. To get a taste of these beaches now, Vincent recommends going to Santa Cruz County-owned Scott Creek Beach and walking south on the shoreline or the coastal bluff.
Coast Dairies will join a string of existing protected areas to add 13 miles to the California Coastal Trail. When complete, the trail will follow the coast from Oregon to Mexico for 1,300 miles.