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Preservation plans for Hell

Since he learned to ride a bike without training wheels, seven-year-old Dawson Fitzpatrick has wheeled around the dirt paths at Hell’s Half Acre.

Last year, Fitzpatrick donated $200 of his own birthday money to the Nevada County Land Trust to preserve the wildflower meadows near his neighborhood on the outskirts of Grass Valley.

“This was his charity. He didn’t want them to build and then it’s kind of evolved from there,” said Dawson’s mom, Diana Fitzpatrick.



More than once, development has threatened the wildflower meadows growing up out of an ancient volcanic mud flow near the intersection of Ridge Road and the Rough and Ready Highway.

Several years ago, Twin Cities Church considered building on top of it, and Phil Lester’s original Kenny Ranch development would have crested it with homes.




After protests ensued, the church relocated. Lester tossed his original plans for 400 homes on 360 acres; instead he will present a downsized plan for a “conservation community” with 100 homes on 100 acres to the county within 45 days, said Shawn Garvey, public relations consultant for the project.

The remaining 240 acres will be left as open space, with more than seven miles of trails, Garvey said.

“That’s a big, big deal. They were basically going to develop all of the land,” said Brad Carter, a member of the newly formed group Wildflowers Forever. The neutral group is working with Kenny Ranch developers to spearhead stewardship of the land. Their wish list include photography workshops, plein-air painting and educational walks on the land.

Once a homeless camp, the dry and neglected landscape twists with ghost pine, manzanita and poison oak, giving the site its dark name. Hell’s Half Acre has become a dumping ground, an illegal shooting range and a playground for paintball enthusiasts.

Last week, Dawson and a handful of volunteers from Wildflowers Forever worked to clean it up. The volunteers removed a truckload of flammable brush and another filled with trash.

On a recent hot and breezy afternoon, the lanky boy bent down to pick up the spent husk of a paint pellet from the dirt at his feet. Behind him a large jack rabbit bounded off into the brush.

“I like all the nature,” Dawson said.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.


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