Palm Springs philanthropist Brad Prescott and OLT president Jane Garrison announce Prescott’s purchase of the Mesquite Golf and Country Club land. Prescott has donated the land to the OLT, which has started the process of turning the land into the Prescott Preserve. Screen shot courtesy of the Oswit Land Trust

On July 25, Oswit Land Trust (OLT) president Jane Garrison emailed supporters and media members, inviting them to an announcement of the OLT’s newest acquisition.

“This is THE one that everyone will talk about for years to come!” Garrison wrote. “This is THE one that other communities will look (at) as an example! This is THE one that exemplifies being proactive versus reactive! This is THE one that restores your faith in humans!”

Kicking off the announcement the next morning at the Demuth Park Community Room in Palm Springs, Garrison noted that the OLT had been frustrated for months in their so-far unsuccessful negotiations to acquire the Bel Air Greens Golf Course property in south Palm Springs. She then invited local philanthropist Brad Prescott to the lectern.

“I got a little ticked off because I couldn’t buy Bel Air Greens,” Prescott told the gathering. “I was so ticked off that I bought Mesquite Golf Course.”

The crowd began cheering and clapping; the noisy celebration lasted for most of a minute before Prescott continued. “I have donated it to the Oswit Land Trust. It’s theirs now, and they’re going to make a preserve out of it. It’s (120) acres, and they’re going to make a desert preserve.”

Garrison later said that rather than calling the property the Mesquite Preserve as originally planned, it would now become the Prescott Preserve, in recognition of the Prescott Foundation’s generous donation.

Just a week later, the OLT issued yet another press release to announce yet another acquisition: 30 acres that include a portion of the South Lykken Trail. The Oswit Land Trust partnered with the Trust for Public Land and the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy to secure funding through two government programs. When that funding didn’t quite cover the purchase price, one of the OLT’s “incredibly generous donors” stepped in to fill the funding gap.

“This (South Lykken Trail property) is our fourth acquisition in the last year and a half, and we are not slowing down anytime soon: There are at least five other projects in the works!” Garrison wrote on the OLT Facebook page. “We will continue to identify and purchase important pieces of land, because when it’s gone, it’s gone forever.”

The Oswit Land Trust announced the acquisition of 30 acres that include part of the South Lykken Trail on Aug. 2. The land was being marketed for possible commercial development. Photo courtesy of the Oswit Land Trust

In addition to the Prescott Preserve, the South Lykken Trail property and Oswit Canyon, the OLT—with the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy and Coachella Valley Conservation Commission—purchased nearly 4,000 acres of land above the Rimrock Plaza, known as Palm Hills and the Goat Trails, in April.

“You know, we have accomplished all that we’ve accomplished in a year and a half with just one full-time staff member,” Garrison told the Independent during a recent interview. “That’s remarkable and almost unheard of for an organization. We have received, or been approved (to receive), almost $20 million in grants while operating on a very small budget.”

The acquisition of the Prescott Preserve, long on the OLT wish list, is arguably the OLT’s most-impactful acquisition to date, due to its location in the midst of Palm Springs.

“I always thought it would be nice to preserve a piece of property,” Prescott told the supporters at the July 26 announcement. “I see it dwindling. You know, the landscape is going. … These poor animals are ending up in our backyards. … They’re losing their habitat. It’s too bad, and we’ve got to really do something now.”

Garrison and her team are working to quickly convert the Mesquite property into the Prescott Preserve. They’re partnering with UC Riverside’s Science to Policy (S2P) program, which has already been studying the types of wildlife and botanical species located on the land. This information was originally being gathered to support grant applications; now the continuing studies will be used to inform decisions on how to manage the natural resources.

Tamara Hedges, the executive director of the UC Riverside’s Palm Desert Center (and a new member of the OLT board), was instrumental in bringing the OLT and students from the S2P program together.

“In thinking about what Oswit Land Trust was trying to accomplish—not just with wildlands, but with open space for community access, which is the plan for the Prescott Preserve—(it seemed that) there will be opportunities for education and access for everyone,” Hedges told the Independent. “I don’t oversee (student) work, but I was the one who said, ‘Oh my gosh! Let’s get these students involved!’ And they loved the idea.”

S2P participant and UC-Riverside Ph.D. candidate William Ota tweeted after attending the Mesquite acquisition announcement: “It was so exciting to be at @OswitLandTrust’s announcement about the purchase of the new Prescott Preserve! I can’t believe I’ve been working with them for three years now and all of the work is coming together! Being a UCR-S2P fellow with Oswit has been a joy!”

Garrison said the OLT will be hiring an environmental and restoration company to work on the Prescott Preserve.

“We’re creating such an unbelievable gift to the community. What Brad Prescott has done for our city is remarkable, and what we are going to do with this property, this generous gift, is going to be historic.” OLT president jane garrison

“This is an enormous project to do (utilizing) only volunteers; it’s just too big,” Garrison said. “We’ve received two proposals already, and we’re waiting for a third. We’re going to be applying for our first grant from the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy … and it will go before their board at the September meeting. We hope they approve it. If they do, that will allow us to start planning. The first year is planning, and the second year will be about planting.”

The Prescott Preserve will eventually need full-time staff as well.

“We’ve already hired some maintenance people, because even though the property is going to be restored, we want to keep it neat and safe during the restoration and planning process,” Garrison said. “Our goal is to keep it open for the public to enjoy. … We’d like the public to help us by staying only on the designated walking paths, because we are doing research on the other areas to determine soil (qualities), what we can plant where, what species live where, what habitat is available, and what wildlife food is available. … I know of some restoration projects that have been done in other parts of the country where the organizations just closed the sites to the public. We don’t want to do that.”

As for potential improvements to the Prescott Preserve?

“We have a wish list, but we just don’t know what is environmentally doable,” Garrison said. “For example, we would like to add more ponds. You know, water is so important for migratory birds. We use gray water on that property, and the water companies always need places to put gray water. So if we can do that, it would be amazing. … There’s been some talk about an endangered fish called the pupfish that lives in the desert. That’s something we’re going to explore as well. Can we create a pond that actually houses an endangered fish species? That would be very cool for school kids to come and learn about.”

Garrison said she hopes locals will both enjoy the preserve—and open their wallets to support it.

“Really, at this point, we need funds,” Garrison said. “… That’s why we put out a notice on our social media that we need the community to become monthly supporters. We need major gifts.

“We’re creating such an unbelievable gift to the community. What Brad Prescott has done for our city is remarkable, and what we are going to do with this property, this generous gift, is going to be historic, and people will come from all over to see it and experience it. But we can’t do it alone.”

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Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...