Honoring their heritage by preserving the land

FRESNO, Calif.

The Central Valley was pioneered by hardworking folks that included those who raised cattle in the nearby foothills. These days the lower foothills are considered prime real estate for subdivisions and in some cases exclusive, gated communities. Many ranchers find themselves working to hang on to not only their way of life but the land itself while wanting to insure it won't be parceled out one day.

The Sierra Foothills Conservancy of Fresno and Madera counties offer ranchers a way to preserve the open lands they own and still pass them on to future generations. We met one such family on the ranch that was built by the hard work of four generations.

The view from the highest point on Kennedy Table Mountain captures a meandering San Joaquin river as it threads down to Millerton Lake. That snapshot and the open rolling hills below the table top offers Madera rancher Bart Topping countless reasons to keep his 2-thousand acres out of the reach of residential development, "With the table top and the foothills and how it goes down into Millerton Lake I just wouldn't want to see houses on it."

This land has been in the Topping family for more than a hundred years. Bart's great-great grandfather and mother inherited some of it from land trust deed signed by President McKinley in 1891. His family photos show a couple with numerous children, "This was my great grandfather EdwardTopping, he was married to Mary."

Their extended family moved to this property from Napa and together with various kin and numerous children would eventually to two thousand acres. It remains a working cattle ranch to this day. Bart Topping expects to pass it on to his two children and their grandchildren.

They will inherit the land but not the rights to develop it. The Sierra Foothill Conservancy, says Board Member Rodney Olson, purchased those rights to preserve the land just as the Topping family has for the past hundred years, " With families who have been stewards of the land, in some cases, for a hundred years and we're able to facilitate that relationship into the future."

The Conservancy's funding comes from private groups and individuals as well as California state water bonds. Jeannette Tuitele-Lewis is its Director, "Development in these foothills really reduces water quality and quantity and keeping that from happening is one thing that benefits everybody." She explained that more people living in foothill areas require more water. The more pumped out the lower the water table. Connecting large tracks of these foothill properties that have no development rights offers additional water protection.

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy also offers the general public the opportunity to visits 4 of the properties it owns outright. Anybody can join the 2 dozen 'Conservancy' guided hikes and classes from late fall thru late spring to enjoy the view and see the San Joaquin Valley from a different point of view.

For the Topping family this tradeoff offers security for future generations and who rest in a family cemetery nearby, "It's good to know it'll still be there and not be paved over some day."

Sierra Foothills Conservancy
California Rangeland Trust

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