Local conservationists officially acquire ‘biggest prize’ — Goat Trails area in South Palm Springs

A popular recreation area in the city’s south end will forever remain available to the public, thanks to the efforts of a trio of conservation groups, including Palm Springs-based Oswit Land Trust. Acquisition of the area known as The Goat Trails — or Palm Hills — was announced Saturday.

“We are proud we were able to facilitate this purchase and protect this spectacular land forever,” said Jane Garrison, executive director and founder of Oswit Land Trust (OLT). “It would have been a tragedy to lose this critical habitat, popular hiking area and the important wildlife corridor to development. With the help of our supporters, we will be good stewards of this land.”

The acquisition, at nearly 4,000 acres, is the largest single land conservation purchase in the history of the Coachella Valley, representatives from OLT, the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy (CVMC), and the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission (CVCC) said in a news release. Garrison said the price was just over $7 million. The deal was closed Friday at 4:30 p.m., 30 minutes before terms of a deal hammered out with the land’s owner were set to expire.

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“This acquisition is truly a dream come true for a generation of conservationists,” said Jim Karpiak, CVMC executive director. 

The property had been slated for a major development in the mid-2000s before city voters approved a referendum blocking the project. Since that time it has been labeled a “special policy” area, which still allows for development. While remaining private, it was still one of the more popular hiking and mountain biking spots in the area. It features up to 14 miles of trails to explore.

Garrison said Saturday morning that the deal to acquire and protect the property was decades in the making. While the conservation organizations entered into an agreement with the property owner last year — kicking off a marathon of grant applications, negotiations, and raising money — efforts to protect the land date back at least 30 years.

OLT has been involved with several efforts to acquire and protect lands in and around Palm Springs. It was initially formed to purchase Oswit Canyon from developers who proposed building hundreds of homes on the land near Indian Canyons off South Palm Canyon Drive. It currently has plans to turn a trio of golf courses into a nature preserve called Mesquite Desert Preserve.

Garrison said lessons learned during the Oswit Canyon effort were used during negotiations for the Goat Trails land.

“Oswit was the launchpad for all of this other work,” she said Saturday morning by phone, crediting volunteers who turned out in force to raise funds to acquire the canyon. “Little did they know it would lead to all of this other work.”

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