The park district is acquiring the property from owners Anthony and Gloria Souza for a total of $1.692 million, the appraised fair-market value, plus acquisition costs. According to the park district’s Assistant General Manager Bob Doyle, this acquisition is particularly important, as it is the first acquisition for a future new parkland facility, Byron Vernal Pools Regional Preserve. Protected areas on nearby Byron Airport are home to some of the last remaining rare vernal pool fairy shrimp. At this time, the Souza II property will be considered an expansion of Vasco Caves Regional Preserve and will be held in landbank until a habitat restoration project is completed.
“While it may be some time before restoration is complete and access is developed,” said Doyle, “this preserve will eventually be a great opportunity for East Contra Costa County schools to have environmental education programs there.”
The parcel contains excellent habitat for the San Joaquin kit fox, coyote, badger and other grassland-dependent species. Wildlife observed on the property includes Western burrowing owl, California red-legged frog, golden eagle, loggerhead shrike and other avian species. Staff has concluded that the site also contains areas suitable for wetland and grassland restoration. The district and HCP are planning to construct a 30-acre restoration project on the property in the summer/fall of 2009 that will result in 10 acres of enhanced or restored seasonal wetlands.
The Souza property will also offer opportunities for public access for interpretation of its biological resources. The partnership agreement with the HCP provides for a future district staging area and trail, the specific location to be determined during the restoration planning process.