Walter Moore, who on July 1 took the helm of the venerable nonprofit following the 24-year tenure of Audrey Rust, said cuts in public funding for parks leave it to groups like POST to finance trails and parking so visitors can get to open space lands.
In its 34-year history, POST has helped save 64,000 acres in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties by raising private funds to facilitate deals between private landowners and public agencies.
For example, in the case of Palo Alto's 609-acre Arastradero Preserve, POST in 2002 bought "the hole in the doughnut" — a 13-acre privately-owned parcel — and held it for three years, allowing the city to raise funds from the California Coastal Conservancy and others to buy it.
"Otherwise you could have had a very large single-family home right in the middle of a preserve, and now it's beautiful additional space," Moore said.
Moore spoke in an interview Friday in a glass-walled conference room at POST's downtown Palo Alto headquarters. Hanging throughout the building are photos of spectacular local scenery from POST-affiliated lands.
In addition to Palo Alto's Arastradero piece, POST had a hand in saving the popular Windy Hill in Portola Valley, Bair Island in Redwood City and the Phleger Estate in Woodside, among many projects.
Just last week, the nonprofit sold nearly 100 acres along Skyline Ridge to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, making way for a future trail connection between Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve and Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.
POST had acquired the parcel for $3.09 million last December, and sold it to the open space district for the same price.
"We are working closely with (the open space district) to plan a potential new parking and trails staging area at this site to make it easier for the public to enjoy the phenomenal trails and views from this beautiful spot along Skyline Ridge," Moore said.
POST also has saved more than 13,000 acres of agriculture and grazing on the San Mateo County coast through buying land that was subject to development, obtaining conservation easements to restrict future land use and then selling or leasing the parcels to farmers.
A recent POST project opened to the public just last month is Little Basin, purchased in 1963 by HP founders Bill Hewlett and David Packard and used for decades as a venue for company picnics and retreats.
HP transferred ownership of Little Basin to POST and the Sempervirens Fund in 2007 and the property recently was added to Big Basin State Park.
The HP facilities — including campsites and picnic tables personally designed by Hewlett — are still there and available to the public, Moore said.
Rosemary Young, wife of former HP CEO John Young, was among the local leaders — including venture capitalist Ward Paine, Sand Hill Road developer Tom Ford and Sunset magazine co-owner Mel Lane — who formed POST back in the late 1970s.
"They looked at the hills and the setting around them and thought it would be wonderful if there were a private, nonprofit partner to complement the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District," Moore said.
"It would be able to raise money and work confidentially with landowners.
"And the open space district thought, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if, in 10 or 20 years, POST could raise $1 million.'
"Well, we've raised hundreds of millions," Moore said.
As of June 30, 2010, POST had net assets of about $227 million. It runs on an operating budget of about $15 million, according to financials posted on its website.
POST frequently has partnered with the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which reaps annual revenues of about $15 million from property tax and is governed by an elected board.
Moore, a real estate lawyer, joined POST in 1995 as general counsel.
Asked about taking over from the nationally recognized Rust, he said simply, "I'm not going to fill those shoes.
"Audrey has put POST in a position of strength and shaped our vision for what comes next."