Bay Area’s newest preserve now open

NEW GROUND Upper Lake is a mill pond adjacent to the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve’s staging area. Photo: Ron Erskine

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area is a mixed bag. The comings and goings of eight million residents lead to crowding and congestion that can test the limits of patience. But we are blessed to be surrounded by more open space than any metro area in the nation. Time in the natural world, the tonic for our restoration, is never far away.

As a part of my work with Committee for Green Foothills, I was treated to a sneak peak at the newest chunk of open space to be set aside for our enjoyment: Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

On your drive over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz, you pass Bear Creek Road beside Lexington Reservoir. A mile up Bear Creek Road, the new preserve’s shiny staging area waits for waffle-soled visitors to explore new ground. The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (Midpen) bought the 1,432-acre property in 1999, ending the battle with the developer who planned to build luxury homes and a 200-acre golf course. With the passage of Measure AA in 2014, Midpen finally had the funds to do the work necessary to open Bear Creek Redwoods OSP to the public. My visit was a week prior to the June 10 opening of the preserve.

Upper Lake, a mill pond adjacent to the preserve’s staging area, is encircled by a quarter-mile ADA-accessible nature trail that highlights some of the natural and human history of the area. Our Midpen guide showed us two large acorn grinding mortars left behind by the Ohlone people. Farther along the path, St. Joseph’s Shrine recalled the period from 1934 to 1989 when the Jesuit school, Alma College, was here.

Tiptoeing past workers busy with final construction tasks, we crossed Bear Creek Road to the foot of the Alma Trail. The trail begins as a series of switchbacks built by Midpen staff that zigzag up to a logging road. Up, up, and more up through a dense forest of Douglas fir, redwoods, big leaf maple, bay and more. The thick canopy lets little light reach the forest floor and blocks all but the narrowest views, but with warm days just around the corner, the Alma Trail looked to be a rare and handy refuge from the heat.

A mile and a half up the trail, we came upon two old-growth redwoods that somehow escaped the clear-cutting that stripped this slope long ago. My goodness, a person would need to pack a lunch just to walk around either one of these monarchs. Thirty feet up, the larger of the two trees split and supported two separate trunks impressive in their own right.

The huge tracts of open space we enjoy in the Bay Area and new preserves like Bear Creek Redwoods OSP do not happen by accident. It happens when dedicated people do hard and persistent work. Thank you, Committee for Green Foothills, for saving this space, and thank you, Midpen, for bringing it to us to enjoy.

Ron Erskine
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About Ron Erskine
Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker.