Yuba River canyon property purchased from eccentric naturalist | SierraSun.com

Yuba River canyon property purchased from eccentric naturalist

Laura Brown
Sun News Service

GRASS VALLEY “-Naturalist John Olmsted is breathing his biggest sigh of relief in 35 years after a local environmental financial consultant bought his property overlooking the South Yuba River canyon, saving it from foreclosure.

Shawn Garvey, an energy and environmental finance consultant and former head of the South Yuba River Citizens League and Sierra Fund, purchased the raw land for $115,000.

“It was kind of a miracle. I got financing the day the stock market fell 800 points,” Garvey said.

Garvey has served as a consultant for an investment group called Enlibra Communities, which included developer Phil Lester, former Center for the Arts president Jon Blinder and contractor Paul Casterson.

Properties managed by the group include Wildflower Ridge, located at Hell’s Half Acre near the intersection of Ridge Road and the Rough and Ready Highway, and a controversial community to be built adjacent to Empire Mine called Vista Trails at Osborne Hill.

Garvey has no plans to develop what he calls the Olmsted Wilderness, other than to build a “low-impact residence” for himself, he said.

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Garvey has developed more than $150 million in public and private funds for land and water acquisition projects in the Sierra Nevada, according to the Enlibra Communities Web site.

The Olmsted property has been in and out of escrow since the day in 1969 when the slightly eccentric naturalist paid $100 down to secure the 32-acre piece of land and several adjoining parcels.

“He owns several properties out there that he’s protected. This one had fallen into foreclosure,” Garvey said, calling Olmsted a “living hero in our community.”

Olmsted came to Nevada County in the late 1960s with a vision of buying a string of California properties once walked by John Muir. He calls that completed vision a “necklace” of conservation jewels strung across the middle of the state.

Muir is the father of the local, wheelchair-accessible Independence Trail. He helped preserve what is now Bridgeport, part of the South Yuba River State Park, and Jughandle State Nature Reserve on the Mendocino Coast.

Though he had big dreams, the properties became a financial burden for Olmsted, who was forced to hold nearly annual fundraising events to keep from losing the land.

“It’s like I’ve been in an eddy on this for a long time. It’s been in and out of escrow in my name for 35 years,” Olmsted said. “This is the beginning of some financial recovery.”

Garvey plans to set aside conservation easements, start a 3-acre organic farm and could partner with SYRCL to host some environmental education on what Olmsted said is one of the last flat pieces of land overlooking the river.

“There’s very few properties like that,” Garvey said. “It’s well taken care of. My values and his values are consistent.”