The Ventura Land Trust’s Executive Director Derek Poultney has the look of a man who loves what he does.

And why not? He’s in charge of a project that could be transformational for Ventura. The Land Trust (formerly the Hillsides Conservancy) has always had big ideas. But while they won the hearts of Venturans years ago, their land holdings have been small. That’s about to change in a big way with the upcoming acquisition of Harmon Canyon.

Poultney and staff are busy these days leading tours into the 2,123-acre property north of Ventura and they are excited. The property hasn’t changed hands since 1862 when the Sextons acquired it and it’s been off limits to the public ever since. But beyond the gates near Missionary Church is a scenic wonderland which will eventually be fully open to the public with trails, a natural spring, and a glorious seasonal wildflower display. It goes back four miles as the crow flies and rises to a height of nearly 1,700 feet.

Right now Land Trust staff are traversing the property Lewis and Clark style, reveling in every acre. For people who love the outdoors, it’s a jackpot right in our own backyard.

“Ventura’s larger companies say this is going to bring in top employees,” Poultney said. “Tourists will want to spend more time in Ventura.”

The varied geology of the property is unique, from huge swooping sandy canyons to shady groves of live oak. The Thomas Fire raced through here in December and for awhile the landscape was blackened and devoid of life. It had not burned like that since 1957. But it is so green now only the charred stumps of trees — most sprouting new life — and large piles of ash where underground fires burned tell the story.

The azure-blue lupine has found new inspiration this year. Nobody has seen anything like it.

Fundraising continues
The Ventura Land Trust needs just $2 million more toward this $10.5 million project. They’ve raised $5.7 million and are hopeful about a $2.9 million grant they’ve applied for. Naming opportunities for donors abound. Do you want a meadow named after you? This is your place.

The Land Trust currently owns 30 acres of habitat in the Ventura River, the 21-acre Big Rock Preserve near Foster Park with year-round running water, and the 8.93-acre Willoughby Preserve near the Main Street bridge.

The organization is preparing for the day it opens the preserve to the public. They’re working with the National Park Service on a comprehensive management plan for upper Harmon Canyon.

For now Poultney is living happily in the present. “You can spend hours here,” he said on a recent tour, stopping to chat with an excited hiker who announced she’d found a species of wildflower nobody had seen before. “We’re only about a quarter of a mile up and you already feel like you’re not in Ventura any more.

“Being able to get away — right here locally — is going to lift Ventura’s  spirits.”

For more information, go to www.venturalandtrust.org. Until the preserve is open to the public, only private tours hosted by the Land Trust are allowed. Contact them to register for a tour if you are interested in a sneak peak. Please respect the current landowners and do not trespass.