A group of young Republicans is buying former President Reagan's beloved California mountaintop ranch, which he once dubbed his "Shangri-la," for use as a training center for future GOP leaders.

The Young America's Foundation, a 29-year-old group that promotes conservative values among high school and college students, will house its Ronald Reagan Leadership Development Program on the 688-acre property, executive director Marc Short said."There's a tremendous hunger in the Republican Party and the conservative movement for a Reagan-like leader," said Adriene Davis, spokeswoman for the foundation, based in Fairfax, Va.

The foundation declined to disclose the price or other details of the sale, which will be completed Tuesday. Short said the group was using private donations for it. Reagan's Los Angeles office could not be reached for comment.

The property had been on the market since August 1996 at an asking price of $5.95 million, which many real estate executives called excessive. The former president and his wife, Nancy, bought the ranch for $547,000 in 1974 as Reagan was nearing the end of his second term as California governor.

Short said the training sessions, conferences and seminars that the foundation is planning will not require any changes to the Rancho del Cielo, Spanish for Ranch in the Sky, situated on a 2,250-foot mountaintop 30 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, Calif.

The foundation is looking into buying additional property for a conference facility in the surrounding areas, Short said.

"It is comforting to know that the ranch we cherish will be preserved and protected in its present state," Nancy Reagan said in a statement. "More importantly, it is critical to the future of this country that Young America's Foundation use the ranch to instill in tomorrow's leaders the lessons of my husband's presidency."

Since announcing in 1994 that the former president, now 87, was battling Alzheimer's disease, the Reagans have made their Bel-Air home their primary residence, leaving the ranch vacant.

Rancho del Cielo was Reagan's favorite getaway from the pressures of Washington. During his eight years as president, he designated it his Western White House, spending a total of 345 days at the ranch. He was often seen from a distance wearing a rumpled cowboy hat and washed-out jeans while riding horses, building fences or chopping wood.