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San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust
Nonprofit Organization 501(C)(3)
Tax ID # 33-0700417                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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Land Trust Buys Royal Rangers Property

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011 8:39 am | Updated: 11:54 am, Wed Mar 30, 2011.

The nearly 11-year contentious battle over 50 acres of property along Highway 189 in Twin Peaks has come to an end with the property's acquisition by the San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust.

The sale ends the dream of Royal Rangers leaders to build and manage a camp on the property. The sale, which has been in escrow since Dec. 17, 2010, closed on Feb. 28. The land trust purchased the property from the Assemblies of God church which sponsors the Royal Rangers, a boys' organization that compares, in many ways, to the Boy Scouts.

Legally the land trust cannot hold on to the property because their purpose isn't to own land; it is to facilitate acquisitions that improve the overall management and benefits of the national forest, said Bill Engs, the land trust president.

The trust will offer to re-sell the property to the U.S. Forest Service and trust members hope the acreage will become part of the San Bernardino National Forest. "That's the most obvious and logical use of this land, given its location and prominent public benefits," Engs said.

The officers of the land trust, Engs noted, are custodians of a revolving acquisition fund. "That money needs to come back to us and be recycled into other projects so it can help achieve ongoing maximum effectiveness."

If the Forest Service does not buy the property, the land trust will have to find other alternatives, including selling the property on the open market or generating sufficient public support to replenish the fund through large contributions and grants.

"Selling land to the Forest Service is a highly complicated and time-consuming procedure," said Engs. A letter-writing campaign at the regional and national level is often required to demonstrate support for the Forest Service's acquisition and help from local elected officials is vital as well, he said.

Throughout the years the battle over the property has taken place, opponents cited many environmental as well as safety and aesthetic issues with the proposed camp. At no time, however, did they malign the boys' program.

Throughout the years, as opposition to the proposed camp grew, the church's attempt to move forward with the project stalled. The site has been on the land trust acquisition priorities list for over 10 years, said Kevin Kellems, the land trust's project manager.

"It lies within a major wildlife corridor and features critical habitat for rare species," Kellems said. "It also forms a natural boundary between the national forest open space of Strawberry Peak and State Highway 189."

The land trust sent a letter to the church in October 2009 to inquire whether they were interested in selling the property. The church originally "demurred," but in July 2010 they expressed interest in exploring the prospect and entering into escrow. It took several months for the transaction to be finalized.

"The Assemblies of God Church proved to be a very courteous and conscientious landowner to do business with," said Kellems.

Longtime local resident William Abell told this newspaper that Pat Marley, the late environmental attorney who spearheaded much of the opposition to the camp, would be happy with the outcome. "This will be great for the community. I hope people appreciate the work the environmental community has done including the land trust, the Save Our Forest Association and the Sierra Club."

As word of the sale traveled throughout the mountain, local Twin Peaks resident Carol Pedder shared her thoughts: "We are blessed with a real environmental win. Habitat for the wild critters will not be fragmented and the wildlife corridor will stay intact. We can thank the folks from the land trust and all the hard work of the citizens of Twin Peaks and the rest of the mountains. In the over three decades I've been trudging along, working on saving our pristine environment, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. I am extremely pleased. A win like this, worked out in such an amicable way with the Assemblies of God folks, is certainly rewarding."

A call to Royal Ranger District Commander Tim Bruder, seeking comment on the sale, was not returned by press deadline.