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1 percent adds up: Ojai Land Conservancy rakes in $43,000

By on March 16, 2016 in News, Wild About Ojai

Wild About Ojai was featured in a great article by Claudia Boyd-Barrett in the Ventura County Star: March 15th, 2016.

Web-Wild-About-Ojai-Logo-DonationsWhen you’re in charge of 2,000 acres of land and about 25 miles of trails, keeping up with all the maintenance and improvements is a time-consuming and costly job.

That’s why, in late 2014, the nonprofit Ojai Valley Land Conservancy launched a donation program called “1 Percent for Ojai.” Businesses participating in the program add 1 percent to their customers’ bills, which goes to support the land conservancy.

Now, over a year later, the program has raised $43,000 to help the conservancy care for the vast expanses of open space it manages for the public’s benefit. This month, the conservancy changed the name of the program to Wild About Ojai to better reflect the initiative’s ties to protecting wild land.

Brian Stark, the conservancy’s executive director, said the program has allowed the organization to take care of land purchased in the past without an endowment set aside for maintenance. The money has also been used to restore native habitat, improve public trails and install new signage, he said.

Early on, the program met with some resistance from people not wanting the extra charge on their bill, Stark acknowledged. However, customers have adjusted to the program and can opt out of paying the 1 percent if they prefer, he said.

“I think most of the community sees the great value it generates,” he said, noting that the initiative has become a source of pride among Ojai residents who feel strongly about safeguarding the open land that surrounds the town. “People came to understand the program, and now that we have projects going in the ground, we’re enjoying quite a bit of community support.”

Projects funded through Wild About Ojai include refurbishing the U.S. Forest Service’s Pratt Trailhead, updating signage on the Gridley Trail, constructing an all-weather trail to the pond at the Ojai Meadows Preserve and ongoing refurbishment of the Riverview Trailhead on Rice Road. The conservancy is also planning to build a new bridge across a storm drain on the Ojai Meadows Preserve.

Stark said money from the program represents about a third of the conservancy’s land management budget, some of which is restricted to certain uses. Wild About Ojai donations are more flexible, so they help the organization take care of broader land management needs, he explained.

“A lot of time we’ll purchase lands, but the lands we purchase aren’t always in pristine condition, so we spend a lot of effort trying to improve them,” he said. “We want people to come to our preserves and enjoy themselves and experience the magic of the outdoors. That’s what makes people care about conservation.”

Restaurants, service companies, a fitness studio and a real estate broker are among the businesses participating in the program.

Barbara McCarthy, owner of Bliss Frozen Yogurt on Ojai Avenue, said her store was the first to join the program. She said her customers are excited when they hear about it.

“I get lots of people that do the trails and they just love the idea,” she said. “It’s also personal. I enjoy the trails, and it’s nice to know that they’re being well taken care of through just a little bit.”

Chris Sutton, maker of Char Man Brand hot sauces, joined the program recently and donates 1 percent of his sales to the conservancy. He said some conservancy land that is now open to the public used to be privately owned and off limits when he was a kid growing up in Ojai.

“There’s all this land I think people take for granted,” he said. “Having it available (to the public) is a really cool thing.”

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