EL CERRITO -- The city has received approval from the California State Park and Recreation Commission for a $250,000 grant to help purchase a 7.5-acre tract of open space that will tie together the two portions of its Hillside Natural Area.

The grant application was made by the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, which purchased the property from a private owner last fall for $475,000 and plans to sell it to El Cerrito for the same amount in December.

The grant is contingent on final approval by the U.S. National Park Service, but the park service has never turned down a grant recommendation from the state park commission, according to Brendan Moriarty, project manager for the Trust for Public Land.

Moriarty said the money is coming from National Park Service's Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"(The fund) has been around since the 1960s and has paid for hundreds of projects," he said.

The funding is in the form of a matching grant, meaning the city and sponsoring organizations will have to come up with the rest of the money from other sources.

A private fundraising drive by the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers, Berkeley-based Friends of Five Creeks and other groups has raised $44,000 in donations so far, said Trail Trekkers President Dave Weinstein.

"The $44,000 has come in increments of up to $3,000," Weinstein said. "We still haven't given up on our goal of raising $100,000."


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The names of individuals and businesses who give at least $300 will be posted on a billboard on Moeser Lane near the entrance to the southern portion of the hillside area, Weinstein said.

Sponsors also have applied to the Emeryville-based Clif Bar Foundation for a $25,000 grant. However, the Trust for Public Land's application for an $80,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was rejected, Moriarty said.

"They told us that this was an extremely competitive (application) cycle," he said. "Other proposals were really, really good."

Any shortfalls will be made up from El Cerrito's share of money from Measure WW, the 2008 bond measure for park acquisition, maintenance and construction in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

Having the land, known as the Madera property, under city ownership will protect it from development and provide a link between trails in the two portions of the 90-acre Hillside Natural Area for hikers and mountain bikers.

It will also improve access to Madera Elementary School above the property from neighborhoods on the west side of the hillside area.