8 Things You Can Do on Your Openlands

Photo by Adam White. Ramona Bohlander sets up a wildlife camera on her property to help the Conservancy track the movements of our wild neighbors.

August 6, 2021

By Izaac Tompkins, Stewardship Associate

Each of the 296 residential lots on the Santa Lucia Preserve has two zones, a Homeland and an Openland. While the Homelands are basically building envelopes zoned for residential development, about 8,000 acres of Openlands are protected under conservation easements held in a trust by the Conservancy. These easements create a natural buffer between residential development and the rugged quality of the Wildlands, which creates privacy for Preserve residents and helps the Conservancy maintain the ecological integrity of the landscape by limiting the spread of invasive species, promoting native and special-status species, reducing habitat fragmentation, and minimizing sound, light, and other forms of pollution caused by human settlement. 

There is a common misconception that land held under conservation easements is owned by the Conservancy and is therefore off-limits. In fact, Openlands are owned by you, the landowner, and  we encourage you to enjoy them just as you would a National Park—meaning activities and recreation in these areas should “leave no trace.” 

The protected status of your Openlands ensures that their intrinsic values (i.e., natural, scenic, ecological, cultural, open space, agricultural, scientific and aesthetic)  will exist forever in accordance with the Protected Values of the Preserve. Privately accessible to you, the landowner, your Openlands can be used for a multitude of recreational activities. To assist you in the enjoyment of your own private park, we’ve compiled a list of eight things to do on your Openlands:

Flora and Fauna Exploration

  1. Tracking Wildlife: Don green and khaki hiking garb, grab a pair of binoculars and a camping chair, and explore the wild and diverse life right out your back door! Wildlife on The Preserve leave unique traces of their presence and if you pause long and quietly enough, you can sneak a peek into their daily routines. Check out our resource library for more info on how to successfully track wildlife and what to look out for, and save a copy of our wildlife species checklist to keep a record of everything you see.
  2. Camera Trapping:You can set up a wildlife camera in a tree or bush to capture native life on your land, especially seldom seen and nocturnal species. Submit your photos and videos to the Conservancy to help us trace species movement, and we can uncover together the wonders of our lively landscape. Contact Deputy Director Dr. Christy Wyckoff at cwyckoff@slconservancy.org for recommended cameras to buy and tips on where to set them up for the best results.
  3. Identifying Plants: PlantSnap and iNaturalist are two apps you can download on your phone or tablet that hold a wealth of knowledge on California’s native plants. Openlands are rich with central coast biodiversity, housing endemic species (only found in this geographic location). Learning how to identify these species is profoundly rewarding and will deepen your connection to the land. For PlantSnap, simply snap and upload a photo of the plant you would like more information on and the app will decipher the species name and other photos from across the state to tell you the plant’s taxonomy and description. On iNaturalist, we have a library of 500 plants found on The Preserve. As you become comfortable with identifying plant taxonomy, this is a great resource to search through for unknown species. Be careful to watch out for poison oak as you explore. If you find a stand of sneaky invasive weeds, contact Natural Lands Manager Jenna Allred jallred@slconservancy.org so we can work together to stop the spread and enhance the native habitat of your Openland. 

Getting Active

  1. Hiking and Biking: These are both great ways to explore the entirety of your Openlands and get an overview of everything this land has to offer. While there are numerous hiking and biking trails throughout the Preserve, you have your own private hiking wonderland just beyond your doors. Consider combining a meandering hike with some of our plant and animal exploration tips above, you’ll be surprised at just how many species are hidden and tucked away. 
  2. Horseback Riding: While motorized vehicles cannot enter the Openlands, equestrian use is encouraged. Exploring your Openlands on horseback is a fun way to traverse the entirety of your land. If you do not own a horse on The Preserve, stop by The Equestrian Center next to the Hacienda to get more info on horseback riding.

With all roaming activities, be sure to meander a different path each time so as not to tread any new trails into the land. 

Relaxing

  1. Picnics, Small Gatherings, and Hammocking: Have a book club or an afternoon tea crew? Openlands are a great place to meet up with friends or visiting family and share joyous moments on your protected lands. Your group will be in awe and inspired to create, discuss, or just sit back and enjoy the plentiful sounds of nature. Openlands are not large event spaces, however, so you will need to find another venue if you are planning a party or wedding. If you are lucky enough to house magnificent oaks on your Openland, grab a hammock and string it up to take a peaceful nap under the canopy. 
  2. Creating: The beautiful natural landscapes of The Preserve are an incredible source of creative energy. Take time out of your schedule to breathe it all in and sketch, paint, or write outside. You can recreate your home at the easel or hire a portrait artist to capture you beside your favorite natural feature.
  3. Stargazing: When the fog has cleared, bundle up, grab your picnic blanket, and bring a glass of wine for an evening gazing at the stars. The Preserve’s unique design, limits of human influence, and elevation above sea level give us one of the best places to stargaze in Monterey County. Light pollution from homes, streetlights, and vehicles often create hazy difficulties for local astronomers, but our wide-open spaces on the Preserve lends itself to spacious, unencumbered viewing. Bring binoculars or a telescope to get an uninhibited look at the world above.

With all relaxing activities, permanent structures or changes to the land are not allowed under your conservation easement. This includes leveling land, building a deck or yurt, or any other activity that wouldn’t be allowed in a National Park. 

We want to hear from you

Our Stewardship team is excited to collaborate with you to maximize your enjoyment of the natural benefits of your Openlands. If you have any questions or concerns about what you can and can’t do on your conservation easement, need Conservancy approval for an activity not listed, or have any other easement-related inquiries, please contact me, Stewardship Associate Izaac Tompkins, at itompkins@slconservancy.org or (831) 238-2210.

Take only photographs, leave only footprints, and enjoy your protected land.