When Jane Garrison, the president of Oswit Land Trust, announced the acquisition of the defunct Mesquite Golf and Country Club and her intentions to turn it into a nature preserve, she knew it would make a big splash.
“This is THE one that everyone will talk about for years to come!” Garrison wrote in a social media post before the big announcement last July.
And almost a year since the announcement, the public is still talking about the 120-acre swath of land, now known as the Prescott Preserve, because its future is not yet set in stone.
At a public Zoom meeting on Tuesday night, attended by more than 100 people, Garrison provided a detailed update on the restoration of the preserve.
In the 10 months since the announcement, Oswit Land Trust has made some progress in clearing trash and brush from the property, repairing bridges, fixing irrigation leaks, and hiring landscape architects and an environmental firm, among a couple dozen other tasks, she said.
“Most land trusts would take about two years to do all of the planning we’ve done,” Garrison said. “This is lightning speed.”
Their surveys also discovered 19 species of special concern on the property, including the federally endangered Casey’s June beetle.
But to fully realize the grand plans of turning Prescott Preserve into a “Central Preserve” akin to Manhattan’s Central Park, a lot of work still needs to be done. Oswit Land Trust is seeking a $10.8 million grant from the state’s Wildlife Conservation Board to fully restore all 120 acres.
The golf course must be cleared of non-native plants and turfgrass for native flora and fauna to thrive. Oswit Land Trust will also remove or bury the concrete golf cart paths, install public access paths, and install interpretive features.
The restoration plan breaks up the preserve into four different zones, and each zone requires demolition, grading, irrigation, plantings and maintenance.
“Our goal is to complete all the restoration within two planting seasons,” Garrison said. She added that the valley’s planting season runs from about November to April.
“Everything hinges on this grant,” she said. “We can’t do the restoration without that money.”
Standing in the way of the grant is the outcome of a lawsuit that was filed just weeks after the acquisition announcement was made. Lawyers for the Mesquite Country Club Homeowners Association argued that creating a nature preserve violates a lease agreement with the previous owner of the property.
Oswit’s plan to create the preserve violates the lease it inherited, the attorneys wrote, and would cause financial harm to HOA members if a portion of their monthly fees goes toward creation of the preserve.
Garrison said this lawsuit, which is still working its way through Riverside County Superior Court, could negatively affect the chances of getting the $10.8 million grant.
“I don’t think they understand how much this impacts the project, which impacts the entire community,” she said. “If we can’t do the restoration, what are our choices? Close it to the public? Put up a fence?”
Those are all outcomes that would have to be considered, she said, if the HOA decided not to drop their lawsuit. Garrison has less than three months to get the lawsuit dismissed; the state Wildlife Conservation Board is set to vote on Oswit Land Trust’s grant application at its meeting on August 24.
Despite the complex legal maneuverings, Garrison is still hoping to come to a resolution. Garrison had met with the HOA board just hours before she spoke with The Post this week.
“We have asked them to dismiss the lawsuit,” she said. “If we don’t get this grant because of the lawsuit, it’s going to change everything we do.”