Thanks to the work of the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy and The Living Desert, there will be no new homes nor condos built on nearly 640 unspoiled acres located off of Highway 74, in the mountains above Palm Desert. None.
Shumway Ranch spreads over a considerable portion of Asbestos Mountain, and also includes large wash areas, as well as a relatively flat section, with views of Deep Canyon and the Coachella Valley floor.
The area is natural habitat for the endangered peninsular desert bighorn sheep.
“This is a major accomplishment for the conservancy,” said Jim Karpiak, the conservancy’s executive director. “The ranch is protected from development in perpetuity through deed restrictions in favor of the state and federal agencies that provided the funds—namely, the conservancy, the (California) Wildlife Conservation Board and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
Not only is the land beautiful and vital habitat; the ranch has significant historic value as well. In 1938, the land was granted as a homestead to Percy Shumway and Nina Paul Shumway, part of a well-known agricultural family in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Local records indicate that this was the last stock-raising homestead granted in California.
In the early 1960s, the ranch was sold to silent-movie star Irene Rich. Her daughter, noted sculptress Frances Rich, inherited it, and lived and worked there until the 1980s, when she donated the land to The Living Desert.
“The Living Desert, a local nonprofit, contacted us almost three years ago to say it was interested in selling the land for conservation,” Karpiak said. “Under state law, we cannot pay any more than appraised fair market value, and The Living Desert readily agreed to the sales price of $1.565 million.”
According to Allen Monroe, The Living Desert’s president and chief executive officer, the transfer increases the area of federally protected land here in the Coachella Valley. He explained why The Living Desert’s board of directors decided to sell the land to the CV Mountains Conservancy.
“This partnership allows us to further our mission of desert conservation, because the conservancy will create a permanent conservation easement protecting the precious desert habitat,” Monroe said.
The conservancy has a long legacy of acquiring land in key areas of the Coachella Valley; in turn, these acquisitions protect threatened and endangered species.
“As land acquired in compliance with the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, its management follows plan requirements and will be coordinated with adjacent conservation lands through the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission,” Karpiak said.
There are three historic buildings located on about 10 acres of land that make up the Shumway homestead. These structures will be protected, too.
“The conservancy will work to preserve (the homestead) as a historical and public educational site,” Karpiak said. “The Living Desert has pledged a significant contribution to assist in renovation efforts.”
Monroe confirmed The Living Desert has dedicated $40,000 to a trust, managed by the conservancy, for the preservation of the historic buildings.
“It saves an important part of our local history, which likely would have been torn down had the land been purchased by a private owner,” Karpiak said. “We also plan to allow use of the ranch as a base for biological or climate-change researchers in exploring the surrounding conservation land.”