MARTINEZ -- A $206,500 grant from the State Coastal Conservancy will help fund public access and habitat improvements on more than 1,000 acres of forests, valleys, brush and grasslands east of Hercules, the Martinez-based Muir Heritage Land Trust announced Friday.

The land trust acquired the 702-acre Fernandez Ranch in 2005 and the adjacent 483-acre Franklin Canyon tract in 2010. The area is frequented by mountain lions, raptors, the elusive American badger, the threatened Alameda whipsnake and red-legged frog, as well as the western pond turtle, classified as a species of special concern, said Linus Eukel, executive director of the Muir Heritage Land Trust, in a news release. The Mount Diablo sunflower, a rare plant, is also found there.

Muir Heritage Land Trust will design and build 2.5 miles of trails to link the Franklin Canyon and Fernandez Ranch properties and create a new segment of the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail, and potentially connect to the Bay Trail at the Hercules shoreline, Eukel said.

"The trails will connect neighborhoods to nature," Eukel said. "Adults and children in the area will have unprecedented access to a spectacular and resource-rich open space within walking distance of their homes and schools."

The grant also will pay for improving riparian and pond habitats by adding fencing and grazing control, which will help native plant species, Eukel said.


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The Franklin Canyon property once was owned by Seal Beach-based GreenPark Group, which wanted to develop more than 500 homes, a hotel, offices and stores there. That plan was thwarted when a group of Hercules residents launched a successful ballot measure in 2004 that restricted most land uses in the Franklin Canyon area to agriculture and recreation and set a minimum of 40 acres for residential lots.

Muir Heritage Land Trust acquired both the Fernandez Ranch and Franklin Canyon properties with help from the State Coastal Conservancy as well as from the East Bay Regional Park District, the State Resources Agency, private foundations and individual donors, Eukel said.

For more information about the Muir Heritage Land Trust, visit www.muirheritagelandtrust.org.

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner