Volunteers working at Save Mount Diablo booths are often asked, "What's wrong with the mountain? Why does it need saving?"
Mount Diablo State Park covers only 50 percent of the mountain and its foothills, so just that area is guaranteed to remain a natural habitat for wildlife and vegetation -- not to mention a pristine backdrop to our lives. The rest is privately owned and vulnerable to development: Those grazing cattle are on private ranchlands that could be sold. In 1971 when Save Mount Diablo began, only 6,788 acres were preserved in the state park; today, 110,000 acres are protected in more than 40 parks.
The views from Mount Diablo's 3,849-foot summit can reach 200 miles on a clear day, even beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, although Save Mount Diablo worries about the views of the mountain from the Valley.
However, more than our views are at stake, points out Seth Adams, Land Programs Director for Save Mount Diablo. Development on the fringe of natural lands interrupts wildlife corridors, while even a single large house introduces new elements such as fencing and domesticated animals.
At any time, Save Mount Diablo might be responding to two dozen development projects. The staff knows about new projects even before they are on the planning boards and gets to work.
"We come to compromises where we can preserve a significant amount of land," Adams said. "Blackhawk was the first one."
When Ken Behring purchased the 4,200 acres climbing up the southeast side of Mount Diablo in 1974, he proposed donating 100 acres to Mount Diablo State Park and developing the remainder into Blackhawk. With the intervention of Save Mount Diablo, the 100 acres was negotiated to 2,100 acres.
"We've preserved thousands of acres through developer dedications at no cost to the public, and thousands more through mitigation," Adams said. "Now we go all the way out to Byron and Livermore. Mount Diablo is the head of the Diablo Range, but we don't want to get cut off at the Altamont Pass."
Save Mount Diablo announced Nov. 6 that it had secured the 1,080-acre Curry Canyon Ranch from the estate of Ettore and Geraldine Bertagnolli, after many years of effort. The purchase price is $7.2 million, and Save Mount Diablo has three years to raise the funds.
"The acquisition is the culmination of decades of effort, especially over the past five years, to secure the largest and most expensive property in our history," said Scott Hein, president of Save Mount Diablo, thanking "two angels" for agreeing to loan them the funds.
Save Mount Diablo also works to inform voters about political issues, such as San Ramon's Measure W in 2010, when developers tried to break voter-approved urban growth boundaries and build on more than 1,600 acres of the Tassajara Valley.
And the organization helps people get to know the mountain. It publishes a comprehensive trails map and offers guided hikes. Every April it hosts Four Days Diablo, leading 20 outdoor enthusiasts on hikes across the mountain -- a total of 30 miles -- from Wednesday to Sunday.
"In the spring, the wildflowers are incredible, and the creeks are running," said Adams, who leads the hikes. "We go down canyons, up boulder-strewn ridges. We only cross two paved roads the entire time, and both of them barely qualify as roads."
After gourmet dinners under the stars, experts speak on the geology and history of the land traversed that day.
Members of Save Mount Diablo are hikers, bikers, equestrians and bird watchers as well as people who just love to look at the mountain. No matter where we live in the Tri-Valley, we know we are home when we glimpse the familiar contours of Mount Diablo, unfettered by development, thanks to Save Mount Diablo.
For more information, visit the website or call 947-3535.
* Mary Bowerman, co-founder of Save Mount Diablo, was assigned Mount Diablo for her botany thesis at UC Berkeley in 1930. She began hiking the mountain, photographing and cataloging; her resulting study, "The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo, California," is still the definitive work.
* Mount Diablo provides habitat for more than 100 species of animals and 650 species of plants; 12 species of endangered animals and plants have been identified.
* At sundown every Dec. 7, the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors gather to light the beacon at the top of Mount Diablo to remember the 1941 attack. The beacon only shines this one night of the year.
* Diablo's parks have more robust wildlife populations now than they did in 1971, mostly due to resource management.
* Save Mount Diablo has more than 8,000 members and supporters. Many volunteer opportunities are available.