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Editorial: Happy trails, thanks to Audrey Rust

Longtime Almanac writer Marion Softky has been examining the past 50 years of San Mateo County history, and notes how differently things turned out from the common vision in the 1960s, when the Baylands, coast and foothills were seen as prime real estate to be developed.

Instead, much of this land has been saved as open space due to the pioneering work of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the nonprofit Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).

"We were on a track to a future that has been totally reversed," says Ms. Softky. A large share of the credit for accomplishing this belongs to Audrey Rust, a Menlo Park resident who on July 1 retired after 24 years as president, CEO and executive director of POST. Executive Vice President Walter Moore, who has been with POST for 16 years, succeeds her as president.

Under Ms. Rust's leadership, the nonprofit land trust worked with donors, public agencies and private landowners to save 53,000 acres of open space in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties -- out of the 64,000 acres saved since POST's founding in 1977.

"These acres of fields, farms and forests protected by the POST have made an amazing difference in how San Mateo and Santa Clara counties have developed -- or rather, not developed," Marion Softky wrote in a 2007 cover story on the 30th anniversary of POST.

From Bair Island on the Bay, to Windy Hill in the mountains and Pigeon Point on the coast, POST purchases have blocked and contained urban sprawl.

"Without POST, the Peninsula would have ended up like the Santa Monica Hills, all full of homes," said Ward Paine of Portola Valley, founding chairman of POST.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, a fellow Menlo Park resident, calls Ms. Rust "one of the great environmental heroes for the land."

Local environmentalist Lennie Roberts says Ms. Rust has "amazing skills" to relate to different people with different interests, from property owners to conservationists, and "bring them into a common endeavor."

"I don't know anyone else who could have accomplished the tremendous amount of land preservation that she did," adds Ms. Roberts, who is legislative advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills. "She made my life a lot easier."

A key part of Ms. Rust's job was fundraising. "We've raised more than $325 million to save stunning scenery, world-class recreation, productive farmland and vulnerable wildlife habitat in one of the world's most expensive real estate markets," Ms. Rust said in announcing her retirement.

During her time at the helm, POST became a role model for land protection. She moved thousands to donate to the cause, encouraged property owners to preserve their land, urged politicians to stand up for the environment, and partnered with public agencies to provide creative financing, said POST board chair Mark Wan.

Among major achievements during the Audrey Rust era, POST did the following:

● Leveraged private and public funds to protect landmark Mindego Hill along Skyline Ridge near La Honda.

● Negotiated the acquisition of Bair Island on the Redwood City Bayfront to include in the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.

● Secured the permanent protection of the historic Phleger Estate in Woodside as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

● Raised $200 million to protect 20,000 acres along the San Mateo County coast.

"It was a time when open space preservation was still relatively new, and we had a huge amount of fun," says Ms. Rust of her years with POST.

In retirement, she plans to spend time enjoying the open spaces she spent so much time saving. She credits the donors, funders, colleagues and landowners for making the achievements possible. "The land is POST's reason for being," she says, "but it's people who make great things happen."

Yes, indeed. People like Audrey Rust.

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