Herman Garcia says he’ll seek funding from Silicon Valley companies to build the environmental portion.
Herman Garcia, an environmentalist who has worked for years to repair decades of damage to the Pajaro and San Benito rivers, met with Henry Rhunke, with WR&D Architects, at the Betabel Road project construction site on Sept. 20 to map out a three-mile river walk trail.
Garcia told BenitoLink he was hoping to create a wildlife refuge and nature center behind the commercial property comprising a produce center, mercantile, restaurant, gas station, hotel and county visitor center. The concrete foundation for the produce center and outdoor restrooms was under construction and the buildings are expected to be completed in early 2022.
He said volunteers from the non-profit Coastal Habitat Education and Environmental Restoration (CHEER) drew up a preliminary map of the trails. He and Rhunke drove along the proposed trail route to discuss its various features, including towers for viewing the rivers, benches and interpretive signs. He said the main trail would begin behind the produce stand and run alongside the Pajaro River floodplain, down to the San Benito River, then over to and parallel with Highway 101, and then loop back to the hotel.
“Behind the hotel there will be a sunken amphitheater for lectures, concerts and cultural events,” he said. “A nature center will have classrooms, and a CHEER office headquarters that will manage everything.”
He said there are plans for a natural history museum and another for the CHEER Garbage Museum, to replace the mobile museum that visits local schools to teach children about damages to the watersheds in San Benito and Santa Clara counties.
He said the trails, museums and amphitheater are on his wish list, as he still needs to find the funding for them.
“I’ll be soliciting corporate donors, especially from Silicon Valley to fund pieces of it or all of it,” he said. “This is a fabulous project that goes beyond San Benito County.”
Garcia did not have a cost estimate for the environmental portion of the overall project. He said he wanted to keep the cost as low as possible, but ultimately it would be up to county supervisors and Rider McDowell, who purchased the 120-acre site in memory of his teenage son who died of brain cancer. McDowell is only paying for the commercial portion of the development, Garcia said.
While the project is designed as an environmental education site and a commercial property that McDowell and Garcia have said will benefit not only pediatric brain cancer research but the county by employing hundreds of people and paying millions in sales tax, it has not been without controversy.
On Aug. 20, local activists protested against the development, claiming it is being built on land sacred to the Amah Mutsun Tribal band. Also, the local activist group Preserve Our Rural Communities has opposed the project through referendums, initiatives and lawsuits but has failed to stop the development.
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Read More:Wildlife refuge phase of Betabel Road project begins | BenitoLink