I was five years old when I first viewed the hills and valleys that would later become part of Chino Hills State Park. At the time, my mom, Claire Schlotterbeck, was redirecting her life’s work toward preserving these gently rolling grasslands, oak dotted hillsides, and sycamore-lined streams.
She was the president of the regional non-profit Hills For Everyone, whose mission was to create the State Park. The Park was designed along ridgeline boundaries to protect visitors from visual intrusions like housing and wildlife from the pollution that could harm the water quality. And, once inside the park you didn’t know millions of people were on the other side.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the hills had proposals for an international airport, numerous housing developments, and roadways. This story’s ending could have been very different. Instead, Hills For Everyone partnered with state legislators to fund—through 33 separate acquisitions—14,107-acres of protected natural lands. The State Park spanned three counties and touched a fourth.
But the vision was not yet complete. The ridgelines on the eastern edge of the park—in Chino Hills—remained unprotected and could swiftly be converted to housing. This would ruin the view, water quality, and the public investment of $111+ million.
If you stood at Lower Aliso Canyon Overlook, facing south toward the 91 Freeway, you would automatically assume that everything in front of you was protected. But it was not. Nearly 50 percent of that viewshed was in private hands.
Over the last 13 months, that vision of protected ridgelines has moved closer to reality because nearly half the targeted 1,520 acres from two private landowners have been conserved—forever.
Just last week, 320 acres closed escrow on ridgelines owned by First National Investment Properties. It was the third in a series of transactions since last summer to be protected. The first acquisition in July 2020 was also 320 acres, but was owned by Shopoff Realty Group.
The second and final phase of this ownership was 80 acres and it closed escrow last June. These three transactions totaling 720 acres secured the ridgelines I viewed as a child roaming the land in a white shirt and red jumper.
Thanks to partnerships with the landowners, The Conservation Fund (transaction specialists), the Wildlife Conservation Board and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (funders), and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (interim land managers) these transactions were able to happen.
All 720 preserved acres have been on the conservation wish list for 40 years. So now, following in my mom’s footsteps, I can look her in the eyes and say: “the ridgeline and Lower Aliso viewshed is complete. We did it.”
Now, onto the second and third phase of the First National acquisitions. There is always more to do. But because we do conservation—you, the community—get to enjoy these lands, the wildlife have homes, and together we know they are forever protected.
Melanie Schlotterbeck is a conservation consultant for Hills For Everyone, the non-profit group that founded the Chino Hills State Park.