EL CERRITO -- A coalition supporting a plan to acquire eight acres of open space in the city's hills is making good progress in raising money and applying for grants, but backers say they still have a long way to go.

The parcel in question would serve as a link between the northern and southern portions of the city's 85-acre Hillside Natural Area, allowing a connection between the two portions for hikers, cyclists and other users.

It would also allow convenient access to Madera Elementary School near Arlington Boulevard for students walking or biking from neighborhoods to the west of the school.

The land was purchased in August for $475,000 from a private owner by the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, which will hold it until December, when El Cerrito plans to buy it with grant money and funds raised through private donations.

The Trust for Public Land is applying for the grants and will charge the city a fee for its services once the grants are secured, said Brendan Moriarty, the project leader for the nonprofit organization.

The trust has applied for an $80,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and expects to receive a decision in about two months, Moriarty said.

It is also applying for a federal grant of up to $250,000 that will require a direct match from money raised through donations, other grants and bond money controlled by the city, he said.

"This will accomplish a great deal for not a lot of money," Moriarty said. "It will be a mile-long park within walking distance of 10,000 people, a lot of bang for the buck."

The El Cerrito Open Space Campaign that is working to raise money from private donors has received $25,000 so far toward a goal of raising $100,000 by the end of the summer, said campaign Vice President Dave Weinstein.

The drive is led by the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers, the El Cerrito High School mountain biking team, the Friends of Five Creeks and other local hiking, cycling and environmental groups.

Sponsors have held a pair of movie screenings and a private party for potential donors, as well as soliciting donations directly from the community, Weinstein said.

The campaign is also developing a plan to ask El Cerrito businesses for donations and are seeking a means to acknowledge the businesses that donate, perhaps through a sign posted at the site or elsewhere in the city, Weinstein said.

"The more people who give money to the private capital campaign, the more it looks like a community-driven effort that public agencies are going to want to stand behind," Moriarty said.

Any shortfall from the grant and fundraising campaigns will have to come from El Cerrito's allocation from Measure WW, the 2008 bond measure for acquisition of parks and open space in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

"We're trying to limit the use of Measure WW funds, since there are a lot of other needs within the city for the use of those funds," Moriarty said.

Contributions can be made through the El Cerrito city website at el-cerrito.org/OpenSpaceDonations

Meeting
El Cerrito Trail Trekkers will hold its annual membership meeting at 2 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Harding Park Clubhouse, 7115 C St.
The group has a display about its work and the Madera open space up at the El Cerrito library, 6510 Stockton Ave., through the end of the month.