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By Patricia Lynn Henley

Open Space districts in Sonoma, Marin and Napa preserve the future.

Efforts to preserve important areas in the North Bay are ongoing, with lots of recent activity. The conservation easement fund at the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) got a significant boost this year from the estate of Robert Held, who died in February. Held's estate was originally valued at $4 million, but his three-bedroom home on a third-acre parcel with views of San Francisco and Mt. Tamalpais plus most of its contents has sold for around $6 million, says Elisabeth Ptak, MALT's associate director. Negotiations are nearing completion on five projects, and by the end of this year MALT hopes to have another 5,000 acres under conservation easements.

Folks at the Land Trust of Napa County are also working hard on conservation easement projects, in part because recent changes to the tax laws make them more beneficial to landowners, says John Hoffnagle, the organization's executive director. "We're working hard right now to get a lot of conservation easements in place. It will keep Napa like it is, by protecting open space and agricultural lands."

There's been lots of activity also at the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District. The district is contributing $500,000 toward the purchase and restoration of 27 acres in lower Pitkin Marsh, in the Atascadero Creek watershed between Graton and Forestville. Plans called for the property to be developed as a 29-bed inpatient nutritional facility, but instead it will be preserved as a biotic resource, with a complex mix of native riparian, marsh, oak woodland and grassland habitat areas. Escrow will close later this year.

Another escrow will close in September on the board's $7.8 million deal to buy 249 acres of scenic hillside on the western edge of Cloverdale, including a 22-lot subdivision on 49 acres within city limits. The south branch of Porterfield Creek traverses the property, which is a mosaic of upland oak forest, mixed evergreens, grasslands, chaparral and some seasonal wetlands.

In addition, Sonoma County's open space district recently approved 10 matching grant requests. Among them are $2.5 million to the city of Sonoma to preserve the 2.72-acre Castagnasso farm; $2 million for Petaluma's East Washington Park recreational ball fields; $2 million for a 1.3-mile Colgan Creek greenway and creek restoration in Santa Rosa; and $1.3 million to help Santa Rosa and LandPaths purchase the Bayer property in the Roseland area.

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