Burleigh Murray Ranch, donated to the state in 1979, dates back to the mid-1800s, when Robert Mills (1823-1897), an Englishman who came to California during the Gold Rush, acquired the land in a valley east of Half Moon Bay. There he built a house, dairy barn and outbuildings. For more than a century he and his heirs leased the land to be ranched. The orchard was probably planted in the early 1920s for use by the tenants, who lived nearby.
The ranch is named for a grandson of Robert Mills’ widow, Miranda Murray (1831-1913). The centerpiece of the ranch is a unique dairy barn, built between 1889 and 1893. The barn—what is known as a “English Lake District bank barn”— was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
So what can volunteers accomplish?
This is what the entrance to the orchard looked like before the Park Champion volunteers began their efforts to restore it last July. You could barely find the fruit trees,
On their first workday, the volunteers rose to the challenge and began clearing away the underbrush, including blackberries, poison hemlock, stinging nettles, and poison oak.
It took a series of workdays throughout 2011 to clear most of the brush that entangled and blocked access to the fruit trees. By February this year (2012), volunteers were able to begin pruning the trees under the guidance of an experienced fruit orchard historian and preservationist.
After the initial pruning, more than 70 Earth Day volunteers augmented the work of the Park Champions, spreading woodchips in the orchard and clearing brush around the nearby historic barn and adjacent trail.
Work continued on the transformed orchard through the summer according to project coordinator Stacy Beard.
In addition to completing the mulching of the orchard, Beard hopes volunteers will be able to extend the trail complex, opening more of the ranch to the public. Beard, who works with Park Champions in several nearby parks, observed “it's wonderful that volunteers tackle projects that park staff might never have the opportunity to complete otherwise. Beyond that, we also give people a reason to visit parks they have never seen before, and hopefully the experience helps to create park stewards one volunteer at a time!”
CSPF’s Park Champions Program, like CSPA, is an example of the kind of partnerships that can help California State Parks survive and stay healthy despite budget cuts and other constraints. Former San Mateo Coast Sector Superintendent Paul Keel commented “We especially appreciate the help from the Foundation and from volunteers in a difficult time, when we are looking serious service reductions and park closures in the eye at our state parks.”