As a boy growing up in San Jose in the 1930s, Ray Scoffone roamed local creeks and open spaces, hunting birds and hiking up hillsides.

"They called it 'Valley of Heart's Delight' for good reason," he said. "In the late spring every year you could walk into the foothills and the whole valley was in blossom. Then we lost the orchards and the canneries. There was tremendous change and a lot of sprawl."

In a deal set to be announced Monday, Scoffone, now 85, and his wife, Virginia, are doing their part to preserve some of the area's natural heritage.

The Scoffones have completed a deal to sell a 357-acre property they own to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, a nonprofit land conservation group based in Palo Alto. The property, a rolling expanse of chaparral that is home to deer, bobcats, red-tail hawks and other animals, sits adjacent to Uvas Reservoir, between Morgan Hill and Gilroy. The transaction will double the amount of protected land around the reservoir for wildlife and public recreation for years to come.

"I very much like the idea of leaving some of the space open for the next generations," said Scoffone, a retired Lockheed engineer. "We shouldn't leave a mess for them."

The land will be managed by the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees an adjacent 340 acres at Uvas Reservoir County Park.


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Santa Clara County's board of supervisors is expected to consider in about a year contributing $287,000 toward the purchase price and adding the land to the county park. After that, it could be open for hiking and other uses.

The deal preserves the land in its natural state, blocking future development of the kind of trophy homes that have sprung up in the past three decades along some ridges and hillsides south of San Jose.

"The placement of a large luxury estate at the top of the property would have destroyed habitat values, and the views from the lake and the lake's shore," said Walter Moore, president of the Peninsula Open Space Trust.

The land also is the latest in a series of purchases and deals by county agencies and environmental groups that have preserved more than 30,000 acres between Highway 101 south of San Jose and Lexington Reservoir near Los Gatos over the past generation. Although not as well-known as preserved lands along the coast or the Peninsula, the emerging necklace of parks and open space preserves -- including land around Calero Reservoir and Mount Umunhum -- is part of an effort to provide deer, mountain lions and other wildlife a corridor from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Diablo Range.

"If we don't prevent them from being bottle-necked, they will have a hard time surviving," Moore said.

Uvas Reservoir was built in 1957. It is the fifth largest of the 10 reservoirs owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The rustic area, which sits five miles west of San Martin in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, was owned by Martin Murphy, an early pioneer of Morgan Hill and Gilroy in the 1800s. Around 1900, a woman named Minnie Kell, or "Ma Kell", ran a campground in the Uvas Creek Valley, with a dance floor, baseball diamond and swimming hole.

After the land involved in Monday's deal changed hands several times, a developer, Roy Havens, attempted to build more than 200 homes on the 357 acres in the early 1960s. But he was thwarted when PG&E used eminent domain to put a transmission line through part of the property, and Scoffone acquired it in 1966.

At first, Scoffone -- a World War II Navy veteran who graduated from San Jose State in 1951 -- thought he'd develop the land. But his time was consumed working at Lockheed, and county development laws tightened over the years. He took his six children there on hikes when they were growing up, and eventually decided not to develop it.

Under Monday's deal, the Peninsula Open Space Trust paid the Scoffones, who live in Willow Glen, $1.075 million for the property. The trust put up $287,000, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority contributed $268,750, the state Coastal Conservancy put in $250,000 of state parks bond money, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation funded $268,750.

"It's a beautiful place," Scoffone said. "I'm happy it's been preserved."

Paul Rogers covers environmental issues and resources. Contact him at 408-920-5045. Follow him at Twitter.com/PaulRogersSJMN.