What would become the Bear Yuba Land Trust started as a small group that met at different spots across Nevada County.
It was 1990 when the group began meeting. Sierra Club members and people interested in the environment — those with a love or interest in the outdoors and its preservation — got involved.
David Wright was one of about eight core members that soon formed an independent committee. The subject of land trusts was sweeping the nation at the time and the group soon decided to form one of their own.
First called the Nevada County Land Trust, the group in 2011 changed its name to the Bear Yuba Land Trust. It held its 25th anniversary this year.
The land trust, which preserves property through its purchase or conservation easements, protects more than 8,000 acres. Its initial core group of eight members has grown to 786. Its annual budget is more than $1 million.
“I think it’s a pretty awesome thing,” said Wright, an environmental architect. “That land will forever be preserved as agricultural or open space.”
The land trust exists to preserve land in an unaltered state, though that can include agricultural uses. Its nonprofit status, and its willing base of volunteers, gives it the upper hand in land preservation as opposed to local governments. It can buy land, ensuring it remains unspoiled in perpetuity. It also preserves land through conservation easements — agreements with willing property owners that set restrictions on land use in the deed.
That means the land under a conversation easement must remain in its existing state, regardless of how many times it passes hands.
“It’s still the landowners’ property,” said Laura Petersen, the land trust’s outreach coordinator. “We’re just there monitoring it and stewarding it.”
Examples of property owned or under easement include Rice’s Crossing, more than 2,700 acres on the Yuba River, and the Garden Bar preserve, a 500-plus acre working cattle ranch on the Bear River, Petersen said.
The land trust intends to make Rice’s Crossing accessible through roads. Some sections already are opened. More than 2 miles of trails wind through the preserve.
The land trust has built, or taken over the maintenance of, some 35 miles of trails since its inception.
It has a presence in western Nevada County, Yuba County and parts of Sierra County.
It’s the trails that keep bringing June Anderson back to the land trust.
Anderson, a land trust member off and on for the past eight years, enjoys the day trips offered by the group. The experience goes beyond a guided hike. It’s the history as well.
“Every piece of land has a story to tell,” Anderson said. “The land trust isn’t just preserving land. It’s preserving the history that goes with it. It’s more than just natural beauty.”
Anderson worked as an anthropologist with the California Academy of Sciences. She traveled the world, documenting different cultures.
After witnessing a variety of cultures in her career, Anderson chose the Sierra foothills as her home when she retired.
“I think it was the outdoors,” she said of her reason for locating here. “It really is idyllic up here.”
Marty Coleman-Hunt, the land trust’s executive director, feels the same. She moved to the area 12 years ago and has served as director for the past eight years.
“I fell in love with the community and the rural setting,” she said.
It’s a theme that flows through land trust members, past and present.
Andy Cassano, the land trust’s board president, is a land surveyor and planner. He’s seen firsthand people tell their government at public forums that they want open spaces preserved. In some cases they’ve been his clients.
The land trust is a great way to meet those goals while respecting property rights, Cassano said.
“I think we would continue in those directions, as far as I could see,” he said of the land trust’s future.
The land trust has spent its 25th anniversary year in self reflection, thinking about the founders’ intent and ensuring it’s fulfilling their goals.
Members have spoken to the community, asking what it wants from the land trust.
“People want us to continue doing what we’re doing,” Coleman-Hunt said. “Protecting the rural quality of this community is important. Also what we’re hearing is people love trails.”
Cassano feels the same. He wants the land trust to maintain its focus on the preservation of open spaces, building trails and children’s educational programs.
The land trust mainly operates on community funding.
It’s holding a fundraiser this month. For every dollar raised, an anonymous donor will match it, up to $50,000. The fundraiser ends Dec. 31. People can donate by phone at 530-272-5994, online atwww.bylt.com or in person at the land trust’s 12183 Auburn Road office in Grass Valley.
Introductory memberships are $35. Those memberships, the property owned or protected by easement, the trails and guided treks — they’re all descendants of a 1990 gathering of people interested in the land.
Calling himself naive at the start, Wright said the land trust’s members grew their knowledge as the years passed. They realized it got a bigger impact by preserving parcels over 40 acres.
Over the years the land trust took on other tasks. It gained ownership of the North Star House and created a spin-off group — the North Star Historic Conservancy — to manage it.
It’s the North Star House, and the thousands of acres of preserved land, that Wright sees as the Bear Yuba Land Trust’s biggest accomplishments in its 25-year history.
“Seeing as there was nothing like it before,” Wright said. “It’s a really special thing for the community.”