Dedication Room at Pajaro Valley Arts Council Honors Diane Porter Cooley
by Land Trust Santa Cruz
on August 3, 2022

As a leader in the ag community with deep roots in Watsonville, Diane Porter Cooley was committed to protecting the agricultural legacy of the Pajaro Valley. Decades-long supporters of the Land Trust, Diane and her husband Don were one of the first farming and ranching families to work with us, placing their Circle P Ranch and additional acreage in conservation easement in the early 2000’s.

A conservation easement helps keep land in private hands and productive use, while permanently protecting it from development. Each preservation agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization is custom crafted. Barry Baker, Acting Director of Land Protection, remembers Diane as being very hands-on. “Diane liked to see that we were holding up our end of the bargain,” recalls Barry. “She’d hop in the car and drive around with me when I did easement monitoring on her properties, making introductions to growers and ranch managers along the way and providing the inside scoop on what was happening in the Pajaro Valley.”

Diane was never afraid to speak her mind and her opinions held weight among her peers. “We’d refer other landowners to Diane to help them get a sense of what a conservation easement is like from a landowner’s perspective,” adds Barry. “This helped pave the way for new relationships and easements to protect more agricultural land in the Pajaro Valley.”

We are deeply grateful to Diane for her work, her friendship, and her commitment to preserving open spaces for future generations of people and wildlife. This excerpt from an interview with the Land Trust in 2008 pretty much says it all—

“When Don and I moved back to Santa Cruz, I thought we’d build a big house on the hill at the Circle P. As time went by, we came to realize that we got more by being in the hills without having to live on top of them, with a road and all that. The house would have changed the hills. Having it unchanged was more like having the hills as a friend.”

We celebrate our memories of Diane this month as the Pajaro Valley Arts Council dedicates a room in honor of her life-long dedication to the land. The room features work by artists who painted at the Cooley’s Circle P Ranch for PVA’s Plein Air exhibits in 2010, 2019, and 2022.

For more information on the exhibit, visit pvarts.org.