By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

The last piece of funding necessary for the purchase of 339 acres at Point St. George by Del Norte County fell into place yesterday, putting close of escrow about two weeks away.

Del Norte County Supervisor Martha McClure championed the effort to put ownership in the county's hands instead of the state's as planned.

McClure got the call yesterday that $1.5 million was approved by the Wildlife Conservation Board for the county's purchase.

andquot;My stomach was in knots most of the morning. I mean, I thought it would happen, but you just never know,andquot; McClure said.

Once ownership papers are completed in a few weeks, the county will be responsible for managing and maintaining the acreage, which is bounded by Pebble Beach Drive, the ocean and the airport .

WCB's donation together with $1 million provided by the California Coastal Conservancy and a $500,000 grant secured and donated by the Smith River Rancheria combine to complete the $3 million transaction.

Current owner Stephen Westbrook (Reservation Ranch) used the land primarily for cattle grazing.

The county plans to develop interpretive trails and to highlight cultural sites once occupied by the Tolowa Indians.

Laura Mayo of the Smith River Rancheria said there is a vision of improving interpretive trails at the old village site to reveal their significance to the public.

It will also be the county's job to ensure the protection of several plant, bird and animal species.

State interest in the property was piqued because the land is home to many threatened and endangered plants and animals.

Both the WCB and the Coastal Conservancy are buying agents for the state Fish and Game Department, which would have become the owner if McClure and others hadn't stepped in.

Because the county agreed to keep the area open for conservation and interpretive uses, the state agreed to turn ownership over to the Board of Supervisors.

andquot;It's one step closer for the community to make decisions about public land,andquot; McClure said.

Renting part of the property to cattle owners is still an option.

The purchase also will allow the county to keep an important buffer zone adjacent to the Crescent City Airport -a factor important to the Federal Aviation Administration when it comes to funding airport improvements.

County Supervisor Martha McClure said after the county takes over ownership, the county will be eligible for several grants to pay for the land's maintenance and possible trail development.