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Pay it back, pay it forward 

Public/private partnerships give us a chance to continue creating spaces for public enjoyment, such as the Bob Jones Trail

If you've driven south on Higuera out of San Luis Obispo recently, you have undoubtedly seen the major construction underway at the Octagon Barn Center. It's been hard to miss the roadwork that is widening Higuera for safer travel and creating a left turn lane into the barn site. The earthmovers working behind the barn also give away the fact that big changes are just around the corner.

The bulk of the current construction is being managed by San Luis Obispo County as part of its partnership with The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County (LCSLO), a local nonprofit. That partnership grew out of the fact that this historic 1906 dairy barn sits on the path of the future Bob Jones City-to-the-Sea Trail. Several years ago, county Parks and Recreation entered into an agreement with the Land Conservancy to develop a much-needed staging area for the Bob Jones Trail adjacent to the Octagon Barn. That parking lot and amenities will serve both trail users and visitors to the barn center. It is a partnership that saves county parks the huge expense of purchasing another site for parking while allowing LCSLO to focus its resources on other site improvements. Those improvements will result in a community events center that will host a wide range of activities like weddings, films, small concerts, farmers' markets, and educational programs. It will also include a community room for public meetings and workshops. This site, which literally bridges town and country, will provide a perfect backdrop to share with new generations the importance of agriculture to our community and our world.

The public/private partnership model making this project feasible has become more common these days. In some cases, this is the only way significant recreational projects can move forward. The Land Conservancy took a similar lead in purchasing the Pismo Preserve. Such multi-million dollar projects used to be largely the business of public park agencies, but shrinking budgets for new development and a growing backlog of deferred maintenance of existing facilities have meant that far fewer new park projects are being undertaken, while demand is growing. The result has been an increase of non-governmental groups like LCSLO stepping into the breach to help provide needed community-serving recreational sites while preserving environmentally sensitive and scenic areas from development.

But even with nonprofits like The Land Conservancy working to acquire and protect special places to benefit the community, they cannot do it alone. At the Octagon Barn Center, our partnership with the county has infused the project with much-needed funds and project support. The city of San Luis Obispo has granted funds to help construct an additional building on the site to stage events ranging from farmers' markets, to birthday parties, to educational lectures. Even small concerts will be possible at the new amphitheater attached to this new structure. Many local businesses have stepped up with in-kind services and family foundations have contributed funds to the effort. At this point, all known funding sources have been exhausted. That's where you come in.

LCSLO is currently raising the final funds necessary to complete the Octagon Barn Center for an anticipated 2018 opening. That means that after years of work by countless volunteers and local businesses, we are just $400,000 short of our goal to complete this $5.5 million project. And now is a perfect opportunity for you to chip in to help the cause. Local supporters have pledged $200,000 to match any donations to the Octagon Barn. LCSLO is asking for our community to rise to the challenge by raising the final $200,000 needed to open the barn doors next year.

If you have ever visited one of the many wonderful recreational sites in this county like Montaña de Oro, the Jack House, or Santa Margarita Lake, you may have wondered who made the choice to set aside these special places for public access. In their day, that was largely done by governmental agencies on behalf of the support of the community. Today, you have the chance to say "thank you" to those who came before you and to be a part of saving another special place for today and generations to come. You have a chance to "pay it forward" by joining your neighbors in donating to the final funding push for this historic icon.

You can learn more about exactly what is being developed at the site by visiting octagonbarn.org. It's easy to make your tax-deductible donation to LCSLO by visiting lcslo.org and following the "Ways to Give" link. Or you can call direct at (805) 544-9096. Be a part of this community's future and give today. You'll be glad you did. Δ

Pete Jenn is the former director of SLO County Parks and a member of the LCSLO Board of Trustees. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter for publication and email letters@newtimesslo.com.

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