NORTH FORK — Madera County will officially take ownership next week of a 140-acre parcel just north of Manzanita Lake. The densely thicketed forestland is being donated to the county by PG&E as part of a more-than-decade-old settlement tied to the utility’s 2004 bankruptcy filing.
Madera County officials say they are grateful for the gift and now plan to develop the scenic tract into a new recreation area.
Mary Anne Seay, senior project manager for the county, said the transfer of title from PG&E will officially take place on Friday (Feb. 21).
The utility, which could emerge from its most recent bankruptcy later this year, has or will donate 140,000 acres of watershed land it owns to California local governments as part of it’s “Land Conservation Commitment” bankruptcy settlement.
In taking title to the land, Madera County is required to enter into a conservation easement agreement with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, Seay said. The easement allows the nonprofit Conservancy to protect the land from commercial development. (The only buildings to be allowed on the property according to the terms of the agreement will be those related to recreational-use activities.)
Seay said Madera County has been developing plans for a number of years to transform the 140 acres into a recreation area with walking and equestrian trails.
“After the property transfers to the County, brushing and fuel reduction along with open space preservation will be our No. 1 priorities,” Seay said.
The parcel is located off Road 229A about a quarter-mile down the dirt road past a structure known as “the PG&E house.”
The property, which is outside the Crane Valley Project boundary, is accessible via Madera County Roads 222 and 229A and surrounded on all sides by privately owned parcels and Sierra National Forest land.
In deeding the land to Madera County, PG&E officials stated: “The undeveloped and natural character of the Property provides scenic views … and surrounding mountain vistas.”
Seay said County officials have been calling the new tract the “Manzanita Planning Unit.” But Seay said she expects a more permanent name will be designated for the tract after the County officially assumes ownership next week.
“We’ve got a lot of work planned to do up there right away,” she said. “We can’t wait to get started.”
Seay said the work to brush the land and reduce fuels will be funded by a $500,000 grant awarded the County in 2019. She expects “Phase 1” of the County’s plan to open the area to recreation should be done in “about a year and a half.”
“This is just Phase 1,” Seay added. “We plan to further embellish the land.” As part of that effort, Seay said she’s been coordinating with Mono tribal officials on a plan to create an interpretive walking trail at the new recreation area.
County consultant and long time grant writer Bill Hayter has been spearheading the project for a number of years and “he will continue seeing this project through,” Seay said late last week.
“[District 5 Supervisor] Tom Wheeler also has been an immense advocate for this project and instrumental in getting the deal done,” Seay added. “He’s been a fierce supporter [of the proposed new recreation area] since he’s been on the board.”
Seay said the County will be relying on personnel from CAL FIRE and the Conservation Corps for fuel reduction and cutting trails on the tract.
“We were hoping we would get this donation a little sooner so we could take advantage of the cooler weather — and lull in the fire season — and get some of those folks out there working already on the property,” Seay said.