Park Charter Fund
1972 was a banner year for parks and open space in the San Francisco Bay Area. In June, voters in Santa Clara County approved Measure C, the Park Charter Fund, which amended the county charter to provide a stable source of funding for the parks and recreation department. It set aside a monetary slice of the general-fund pie exclusively for the acquisition and development of parklands.
In November, Santa Clara County voters went back to the polls to approve creation of the Midpeninsula Regional Parks District (later the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District). That same month, voters in Marin County created their own open space district, and Monterey County voters created the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District.
The Measure C amendment required the Board of Supervisors to establish a park acquisition and development fund in the county treasury. It transferred into this fund annually a sum of money which was not less that the amount than would be raised by a tax of 10¢ per $100 of assessed valuation of the county.
Unlike funding for other Bay Area park and open space districts, the Park Charter Fund—which was placed on the ballot by the county board of supervisors—did not create a new tax. Instead, it was a small set-aside of county revenues, including property taxes and other sources, to be used exclusively for parks.
In addition, all other money for county parks—whether from state, federal, or private sources—would be deposited into the fund. At least 50 percent of the money in the fund had to be used for the acquisition of real property for county park purposes.
The ballot argument for Measure C was written by Robert Girard, chair of a group called Citizens for Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Girard, a Stanford law professor, was also active in the drive to create the Midpeninsula Regional Park District.
In his argument, Girard wrote that the average Santa Clara County family would pay about 46 cents per month for parks—a small price for such a large return on investment. Girard also noted that continued funding for parks through bond measures, as had been the method in the past, would result in an additional $30 million in interest charges being billed to county taxpayers. A stable source of funding would allow the county parks and recreation department to obtain state and federal dollars which otherwise might not be available.
Finally, the county did not have enough existing parks to meet the demands of a skyrocketing population—and available parklands would only get more scarce and more expensive as time went on. “Recreational lands will be acquired and developed to protect areas of natural beauty and uniqueness that otherwise will be destroyed,” Girard wrote.
A group called United Taxpayers, Inc. filed the ballot argument against Measure C and the rebuttal to Girard’s argument in favor of the measure. The rebuttal used the phrase “luxury park land-grab taxes” when referring to Measure C and said the government already owned about half of all land in California. It tried to link the Park Charter Fund with the growth of government in general.
Apparently, the people of Santa Clara County thought otherwise. They decided it was a wise investment to set aside about $6 per family each year to augment what was slowly but surely developing into a prized countywide asset—its parks and recreation system.
The Park Charter Fund in Santa Clara County is not permanent. In November 1988 and June 1992, county voters extended the Park Charter Fund for two four-year terms. In March 1996 and June 2006, voters extended it for two 12-year terms.
However, the amount of the set-aside has changed over the years, as has the allocation ratio between acquisition, development, operations, and maintenance. In fact, since the passage in June 1978 of Proposition 13, California’s property-tax limitation measure, there has been a 43 percent reduction in the set-aside.
First Park Charter Fund Campaign
Rod Diridon Sr. is the executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and chairs the National High-Speed and Inner-City Rail Committee and the National High Speed Rail Coalition. From 1975 through 1994, he was a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, serving six times as its chair.
After graduating with a BA in accounting and an MBA in statistics from San Jose State University, Diridon served two tours of duty as a naval officer in Vietnam. In the late 1960s, he became active in local politics in Saratoga, fighting to stop development of the Cox Family Ranch and helping the effort to rezone it for a town park.
“I developed a coalition between the 13 different homeowners associations in Saratoga, and we went to battle with the city council,” Diridon said. “That was my first foray into creating parks in the valley. I really felt the need for that park. My children and I would walk up the creek and see the raccoon tracks and see the pollywogs and the other things that lived in the creek. I could not imagine that beautiful resource turned into another housing development.”
Diridon won election to the Saratoga city council in 1971, about the same time as the campaign to pass the first Park Charter Fund ballot measure was gearing up. “In part because of my crusading for the park in Saratoga, the environmental community came to me and said, ‘We need a champion to help chair the first Park Charter campaign for the county,’” Diridon said.
The primary goal of the 1972 Park Charter Fund campaign, according to Diridon, was to protect the hills bordering the Santa Clara Valley by establishing a impenetrable barrier of permanent open space.
“The primary purpose was to create a ring of parklands all the way around the developed area of the central part of the county,” Diridon said, “so the services could not be extended up in the hills—so you couldn’t have sewer lines and electrical lines and roads and other kinds of services that would penetrate through those parks and get up into the mountains. And if you couldn’t have the services, then you couldn’t have the development up there, at least any intensive development. So that was the tactical objective. We didn’t talk too much about that tactical objective, because we didn’t want the development community to go completely crazy.”
Other political leaders of the Park Charter Fund campaign, Diridon said, were Janet Gray Hayes, who was elected to the San Jose City Council in 1971 and in 1974 became the first female elected mayor of a large American city; Dan McCorquodale, an environmentalist who in 1972 defeated conservative Charles Quinn to win a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors; and Susanne Wilson, who was elected to the San Jose City Council in 1972 and served on the county board of supervisors from 1979 through 1991.
Those campaigning to pass the Park Charter Fund, Diridon said, were building on a solid preservationist foundation laid down during the previous decade by the Committee for Green Foothills and other activists “who just realized that we couldn’t have ticky-tacky houses going up at the top of our ridges, as had happened in San Francisco.”
In August 1961 Mary Davey moved with her husband to Los Altos Hills, where she quickly began a career of political service and environmental activism that made her a key player in issues affecting the quality of life in Santa Clara County.
Davey served on the Los Altos Hills City Council, was an officer in the Committee for Green Foothills, worked for passage of the Park Charter Fund and its subsequent renewals, and is considered one of the founders of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
The year 1972 was a pivotal one in Santa Clara County, because two parks-related measures were on the ballot—the Park Charter Fund in June, and the measure to create the Midpeninsula Regional Park District in November.
“So we were all about town doing our various campaigning, and I would have to confess that I campaigned more for the district, because I was one of the original creators of the district,” Davey said. “But at the same time, we could see the complementary coalition between the county and the district. Because in the north county, it seemed to many of us that there wasn’t as much activity by the county in parks and recreation. Palo Alto had a very good parks-and-recreation organization and has many parks. But there weren’t that many county parks, and there still aren’t.”
According to Davey, the stated mission of the Midpeninsula Regional Park District was to acquire and protect open space in the northern half of Santa Clara County. Recreational opportunities would be confined to low-impact passive uses, such as hiking and horseback riding, that required minimum facilities—in many cases just a gravel parking area and a pit toilet.
The mission of the county department of parks and recreation, on the other hand, was to provide a wide range of recreational opportunities easily accessible to the urban and suburban communities of Santa Clara County.
The early 1970s were “the halcyon days” of environmentalism in the Bay Area, Davey said, spurred by the first Earth Day in 1970, whose coordinator, Denis Hayes, had been student-body president at Stanford University, “a hotbed of bright young people interested in the environment.”
Both 1972 ballot measures benefitted from the rise in environmental consciousness emanating from the Bay Area and sweeping the nation, said Davey. “So the two movements, the two votes in Santa Clara County, were right on top of the creation of this movement. It was the kind of thing that we just knew would work.”
Dom Cortese was a Santa Clara County supervisor when the Park Charter Fund was placed on the June 1972 ballot. He said there was concern that having Measure C and the measure to create the Midpeninsula Regional Park District on same ballot might jeopardize both measures. “The Midpeninsula Park District people agreed to go on the ballot in November following us, and to cooperate and work with us on the June measure,” he said.
“We needed to stop growth—preserve the foothills and the rural areas,” Cortese said. “And to do it at a time when acquisition cost was reasonably low, and large tracts of land were available.” Cortese credits the board of supervisors, the media, and the people of Santa Clara County for passage of the Park Charter Fund amendment and its subsequent renewal every time it has come up for a vote. “It takes political will. It takes some salesmanship. It takes cooperation among political entities, and then the vote of the people.”
Jim Beall is a member of the California State Assembly, elected in November 2006 to represent the 24th District, which includes San Jose, part of Santa Clara, Campbell, and Saratoga. From 1995 through 2006, Beall was a county supervisor, representing the 4th District.
Beall was a political-science major at San Jose State University when the first Park Charter Fund was placed on the ballot. As a committed 20-year-old environmentalist, Beall was a member of the Park Charter Fund campaign steering committee and the coordinator for voter turnout in downtown San Jose.
“My responsibility was to get a big turnout, a lot of yes votes for the Park Charter. They needed a big vote in the downtown central San Jose to offset maybe some negative votes other places,” he said. “So I worked real hard and got about 80 percent in some of the precincts in the downtown area for the Park Charter. One of the most exciting things I’ve done in politics was to get out and campaign for that early measure.”
The campaign for the Park Charter Fund was a grassroots effort, Beall said, especially at San Jose State University, where two years earlier, some students involved in the first Earth Day had buried a Volkswagen Bug to protest the pollution caused by internal-combustion engines.
“I got dozens of students involved in campaigning for the parks measure,” Beall said. “We had a system where we got academic credit for the community involvement of working on the campaign. Those were the bodies that really did all the grunt work in the campaign office and walking precincts and so forth.”
In addition to the new environmental awareness that began with the first Earth Day, Beall said statewide campaigns to pass environmental legislation such as the California Environmental Quality Act and Proposition 20, which created the California Coastal Commission, helped raise consciousness at a local level.
There was also a seismic shift in city and county politics occurring around this time, with younger, more liberal people being elected to the county board of supervisors and also to the city council and mayor’s office in San Jose.
“The city and county leaders became more environmentally conscious,” Beall said. “We had people like Norman Mineta elected mayor of San Jose, who were more for controlled growth—planned growth rather than unplanned growth—and putting a green line around the valley, to protect the hills.”
“The big explosion took place—the big thing that pivoted the park system was the passage in 1972 of the Park Charter measure, which basically financed the purchase of the open space in the park system,” Beall explained. “After that passed, literally thousands of acres were purchased and developed into the county park system. If the Park Charter Fund had failed, Beall said, it would have been a defeat for the environmental movement in Santa Clara County, a green light for developers to begin building homes all over the hillsides.
“I think the Charter movement was the rallying cry for the environmental movement in Santa Clara County,” Beall said. “The foot soldiers are the ones that made it happen. Neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, it was a true grassroots effort, and it still is.”
Garnetta Annable served on the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Commission from 1988 until 1997. She is currently an elected director of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. According to Annable, business and community leaders in Silicon Valley had a lot to do with passage of the Park Charter Fund in 1972.
“The leadership and the innovation that was going on in Silicon Valley, in terms of its electronic industry, brought a lot of talent to Santa Clara County. That core group of inventors and innovators recognized the need to expand our parks department. The county wasn’t spending money to do that, so this group of leaders got together and called upon the county to create and fund parks better,” said Annable.
Before passage of the Park Charter Fund, money for parks and recreation came from the county’s general fund, which was also paying for basic county services such as law enforcement and health care.
“It was at the discretion of whoever your county executive was and whoever your board of supervisors were, as to how much they would spend,” Annable said. “But with a mandate for the Park Charter, then it was no longer a discretionary funding. It was a mandatory program. I think that it’s important to the public that when they value a service that the government’s doing, that they can direct where their tax dollars are spent,” said Annable. “We do have such a special area here in Santa Clara County. We have a little bit of the Mediterranean weather. If you look up in our skies today, we have these gentle wispy clouds. We have our blue skies most of the time. I think people really value this area.”
The 1950s and 1960s saw steady population growth related to industrial development, Annable explained, but nothing like what occurred after the electronics industry took hold and began to transform the Valley of Heart’s Delight into Silicon Valley.
“People were beginning to look around and say, ‘Okay, what do we want this place to be like in the future? What do we need and what do we want to preserve?’ The Park Charter was the vehicle to fund what they knew needed to be developed and wanted to pursue.”
Opposition to the Park Charter Fund
Opposition to the Park Charter Fund measure came from farm and ranch-holding landowners in the foothills on the east side of the Santa Clara Valley and those in the southern end of the county, according to former county supervisor Diridon.
“I don’t discriminate between a rancher who wants to sell—who is doing hobby ranching and wants to sell their property for a big windfall profit—from a speculator,” he said. “They were really interested in selling the property for a windfall profit.” Rising land values were in large part caused by the booming Silicon Valley economy and not by any improvements that landowners had made to their property.
“I felt pretty passionately about it. I took some of them on directly. I became kind of a lightening rod for that group. But I was reelected to the board of supervisors without any difficulty. I think I was doing what the valley population wanted. That was to protect the open space in the hills and to reduce the potential for development.”
Dianne McKenna, who served from December 1984 until January 1997 as county supervisor from District 5, said there were three main arguments by landowners against the Park Charter Fund. First, the government already owned too much land. Second, government ownership of land infringed on the property rights of individuals. Third, Santa Clara County already had enough parks and open space.
The landowners could be characterized as belonging to one of two groups, according to McKenna. “First, there were the farmers who really wanted to farm the land and wanted to preserve and protect it,” she said. “I really respected them a lot because of what they were trying to do to. It was their life’s work. It was a family commitment to the land.
The other group, she said, were more interested in the quick buck, the cash cow. “They could see this as a way of building a nest egg, because their land would be used to advance the development.”
Urban Sprawl and Abject Cannibalism
San Jose’s approach to growth during the 1950s and 60s amounted to “abject cannibalism,” said Diridon, because the city was bent on swallowing up the smaller communities around it. By the early 1970s, things had begun to change.
“The planning department of the county was staffed by that time with brilliant young planners who believed in sustainability,” said Diridon. “They were absolutely determined not to see Santa Clara Valley become the location where the hills were covered with homes.” They reasoned it was not economical to extend municipal services into the hills because the tax base there was too low. Also, the homes would be hard to protect in the event of an emergency, such as an earthquake or fire.
Passage of the 1972 Park Charter Fund and the creation that same year of the Midpeninsula Regional Park District fulfilled what Diridon called “the real purpose” of the two ballot measures—“to keep development from going up into the hills; to create a ring of parklands through which services could not penetrate, and therefore making it impossible for high-density development to occur beyond the park lands.”
Money from the first couple of Park Charter Fund measures was spent to acquire “perishable land,” said Diridon, or land closer to urban centers that was immediately threatened with development. “If we bought them before they were zoned into development, they were less expensive than if we bought them later on. It blocked development services going through those parcels. We systemically went on down the west side—which was the area that was most subject to development—and on down to south of Los Gatos and south of San Jose, to try to set up the ring of impermeable parklands. We didn’t have enough money to do it all.”
Santa Clara County Goes Green for a Decade
Diridon said it was fortunate that the county executives during the 1970s—Howard Campen and then Bill Siegel—were supporters of parks. The county board of supervisors and the San Jose City Council were transformed as well during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Diridon said, from being dominated by development interests to being dominated by environmental interests—personified by Victor Calvo, elected supervisor in 1968; Janet Gray Hayes, elected to the city council of San Jose in 1971 and the city’s mayor in 1974; Dan McCorquodale, elected supervisor in 1972; Geraldine Steinberg, appointed supervisor in 1974 and elected in 1976; and Diridon himself, elected supervisor in 1974.
Park Charter Fund renewals traditionally have been placed on the ballot by the county board of supervisors following public hearings before the county parks and recreation commission. The first renewal of the Park Charter Fund came in November 1978; it kept the original measure’s minimum percentage for land acquisition at 50 percent but added a minimum of 30 percent for operations and maintenance.
Proposition 13, approved by voters in June 1978, drastically limited property taxes and bit into charter funding. On the heels of this dramatic decrease in money available for parkland acquisition came the hiring of a new county executive, following the retirement of Bill Siegel in 1981.
Sally Reed, who served from 1981 through 1993, was not nearly as park friendly as her predecessors, Diridon said. “She was very conservative, very development oriented, and would not cooperate with us.”
Anti-Environmentalism in the Reagan Era
Ronald Reagan had been inaugurated as the U.S. president in 1981, and the tide seemed to be turning against environmental action. “The moral majority was in charge—neither a majority nor moral,” Diridon said. “They were very pro-business, anti-environment. So we were having a hard time sustaining our momentum in our valley.”
County executive Reed allowed Park Charter Fund money to sit in the bank while suitable properties were being developed or priced out of reach. “We had something in the neighborhood of $20 million sitting in the Park Charter Fund, not expended on purchasing,”
A combination of Reed’s stalling tactics and opposition from landowners, including the Santa Clara Valley Landowners Association, resulted in what Diridon called the “sequestering” of money for parkland acquisition that was accumulating in the county treasury.
“Finally, the board of supervisors took $9 million out of that fund and gave it to the City of San Jose for the purpose of developing the Guadalupe River Park,” said Diridon. And at that point, Reed began to realize that if the county did not spend the Park Charter Fund money, there was a risk of loosing it.
“You’re not going sequester it and make it look like you have budgets balanced,” Diridon said. “You’re not going to be able to spend it for the purpose that it was intended, which is in the foothills.”
1986 Renewal Brings Change in Allocation
According to former parks and recreation commissioner Annable, the “Committee of 100” was created in 1986 to encourage the county board of supervisors to place the Park Charter on the ballot for renewal. At that time the county executive, Sally Reed, wanted control of all county funds and did not want a set-aside of funds dedicated to parks and open space.
“If we could persuade the board of supervisors to vote in support of extending the charter, we could override the county executive’s wishes and also save significant volunteer hours and the expense of collecting signatures to place the charter on the ballot as a public initiative,” said Annable, who has been a leader in every campaign to renew the Park Charter Fund.
The committee was led by Annable, Patricia Compton, Linda Elkind, and Betsy Shotwell. “We worked closely with supervisors Rod Diridon, Susanne Wilson, and Dianne McKenna, who were strong park supporters,” Annable said. “Phil Boyce, a banker and civil leader, was also very involved to help us in our outreach to business and civic leaders from all areas—high tech, real-estate developers and sales, chambers of commerce, nonprofit community-service and health organizations, multicultural organizations, and the news media. We all worked very hard to bring everyone together. We truly believed that parks were part of the health and safety of our community, bringing our citizens opportunities for respite, beauty, and physical activity.”
A changing economic landscape, combined with political pressures from county executive Reed, forced a change in the way park funds were allocated. When the Park Charter Fund was renewed in November 1986, the set-aside was reduced to 1.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Each renewal of the Park Charter Fund is for specific fiscal years. For example, the original fund covered fiscal years 1973 through 1978; the November 1978 renewal covered fiscal years 1979 through 1987, and so forth. Annable said the vote in November 1986 covered only two fiscal years—1988 and 1989.
The reason behind the shortening of the term, she said, was to help spur creation of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority as an alternate source of funding for parkland acquisition.
“The county executive did not want to extend it for anymore than two years because she wanted to hold our feet to the fire in terms of creating the Open Space Authority,” Annable said. A citizens committee was formed to lobby for an open space agency in Santa Clara County, which would complement the work of the county parks and recreation department and acquire lands outside the boundaries of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
In 1992, Governor Pete Wilson signed legislation creating the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. However, the legislation did not specify how the new agency would be funded. In 1994 the authority created an assessment district to fund land acquisition, but this was immediately challenged in court by a taxpayers group—a case that took four years to resolve and was ultimately decided in favor of the authority, which made its first open space purchase in 1999.
By the time the Park Charter Fund was renewed in the November 1986 election, the threshold for land acquisition was dropped to 20 percent, with the remaining 80 percent going for development, operations, and maintenance.
According to Diridon, this revised allocation was the result of pressure from landowners—voiced in the media and at hearings before the county parks and recreation commission—to reduce the amount of money available for parkland acquisition. Diridon said he was initially opposed to this reduction, but eventually, albeit reluctantly, he gave in.
“I felt we ought to spend every dime we could in setting up this barrier, the parklands barrier to development,” he said. “But I began to realize we were developing quite a bit of parklands. Some things were happening on the parklands that were not good, and they were being abused because we weren’t monitoring them properly. I finally acquiesced to allowing a larger portion of the Park Charter measures to go into maintenance and operation. But the result was that we never have been able to complete the impermeable barrier to development around the developed area of the county to keep the development from sprawling into the hills.”
Diridon said the barrier to the west is strong, the barrier to the south is somewhat less strong, and the barrier to the east is weak.
“It wasn’t politically viable for the Landowners Association to come out and publicly oppose parks,” Diridon said. “That would not have been politically successful, because the valley still wanted parks and the industrial leaders wanted more parks. So the people who wanted to scuttle our objective of setting up the barrier forced us to put less and less into the acquisition programs and more and more into development and operations.”
At the same time, land prices were skyrocketing and potential parklands were disappearing, thanks to the economic success of Silicon Valley, Diridon said. “Not only were we putting less money into buying the land, but because of the success of Silicon Valley, land for housing development was becoming more and more scarce.”
Kitty Monahan served on the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Commission from 1990 until 1998. Prior to that, she served on the county’s historical heritage commission, which had been established in 1973 to preserve and promote the appreciation, recognition, and preservation of historic resources in Santa Clara County.
Monahan said the flip-flop in Park Charter Fund allocation that occurred in the 1980s—whereby money for acquisition was reduced and money for development, operations, and maintenance was increased—made good sense for two reasons. First, there were other organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy and Peninsula Open Space Trust, that could buy and protect land. Second, the parks and recreation department faced a new challenge brought on by the success of its expanding park system—how to maintain the already established network of parks and link them via connecting trails.
“We bought all these parks, now you need to protect them,” Monahan said. “You need the money for taking care of them, administration money. So now we flip-flopped it. We agreed to that because there was plenty of money in acquisition. Now what we wanted to buy were connecting parks. All the parks that we owned—28 of them—we wanted to buy trails or easements or something to connect them all.”
Today, the combined efforts of the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department and its partners—including the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Peninsula Open Space Trust, and the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority—have been “nibbling away at buying more and more of that land that stops development from going up into the hills,” Diridon said, thus fulfilling the vision of the activists whose efforts in 1972 helped pass the first Park Charter Fund measure.
More New Parks: Stories of Establishment
Almaden Quicksilver 1973, 1975
Visitors to this 4,152-acre county park enjoy more than 33 miles of hiking trails, 25 miles of equestrian trails, and more than 10 miles of bicycling trails that crisscross Capitancillos Ridge, south of San Jose. The park features historic sites and interpretive programs related to the area’s heyday as a center for the mining of mercury ore. Many of the park’s trails are former mine roads. Picnic sites are available, and leashed dogs are welcome on all trails in the park, which is served by mass transit.
Oak woodland, chaparral, and grasslands dominate the hillsides here, but there is ample vegetative evidence of the park’s mining past in the form of nonnative plantings. California’s native rock, serpentine, underlies much of the park and creates a nutrient-poor soil containing minerals, such as nickel and chromium, toxic to many plants but supportive of specialized species. Hence the presence of serpentine-loving species such as leather oak, a shrub, and various wildflowers—cream cups, bird’s-eye gilia, goldfields, and jewelflower—that put on a gorgeous display in spring.
Mammals taking advantage of this diverse habitat include black-tailed jackrabbits, bobcats, brush rabbits, coyotes, gray foxes, gray squirrels, Merriam chipmunks, mule deer, and skunks. Western rattlesnakes and western fence lizards are also at home here.
While on the trail, be sure to scan the skies and search the underbrush for acorn woodpeckers, dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned sparrows, northern flickers, ruby-crowned kinglets, western scrub jays, and white-tailed kites.
In the 19th century, this area was home to the New Almaden Mines, one of largest mercury, or quicksilver, mines in North America. Geological forces acting eons ago on the park’s serpentine rock, or serpentinite, created extensive deposits of an ore called cinnabar.
The mines’ furnaces transformed cinnabar into mercury, an element used in the refining of gold and silver. The local Ohlone people were familiar with cinnabar, which they called mohetka. Ground and mixed with water, the ore made impressive body paint. Mercury is toxic to humans, and the Ohlone who came into close contact with cinnabar may have suffered health consequences as a result.
In the fall of 1845, a Mexican captain named Andres Castillero, who had been trained at the College of Mines in Mexico City, passed through the area on a visit to Mission Santa Clara. Castillero noted certain intriguing signs in the area, including the reddish coloration of the mission walls, that stirred his interest.
Realizing that he was dealing with rock familiar from his Spanish homeland, Castillo conducted an experiment that confirmed his suspicions—the rock was indeed cinnabar, and when heated its condensed vapor produced mercury, or quicksilver. This satisfied more than Castillero’s idle curiosity, as the Mexican government had offered a significant monetary reward to anyone discovering underground riches in its California colony.
In the fall and early winter of 1845, Castillero filed two mining claims with the alcalde, or mayor, of San Jose to prospect on lands belonging to Jose Reyes Berryessa, owner of Rancho San Vicente. Castillero set up a mining camp and began to convert the plentiful cinnabar to precious mercury, using a rudimentary method involving the same mammoth cast-iron kettles used by whalers to render blubber into oil.
It soon became clear that the mine’s vast potential could only be unlocked with updated technology. Unfortunately, the prospect of war between Mexico and the United States put Castillero’s plans on indefinite hold, and he decided to sell his shares in the newly formed mine.
The buyers were Eustace Barron and Alexander Forbes of the Barron, Forbes Company, a British industrial firm operating in Tepic, Mexico. The company began construction of housing for mine workers and a giant furnace to roast the cinnabar and capture its valuable vapors. The settlement on Los Alamitos Creek became known as the Hacienda, for hacienda de beneficio, or reduction works. The mining area was called the New Almaden Mines after the prodigious Almaden Mines of Spain, considered the world’s largest and oldest mercury mine.
Mercury aids the refining of gold, so after gold was discovered in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada in January 1848, the New Almaden Mines helped guarantee the success of the Gold Rush.
After statehood, all claimants under the Mexican land-grant system had to submit their claims to U.S. jurisdiction. In 1852, the Barron, Forbes Company filed the original Castillero claim in federal court, but the legal process dragged on for 12 more years, with the company eventually losing its claim in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, mining operations continued at an ever-increasing pace. By 1854, the mines reduction furnaces—13 in all—were running nonstop. Casa Grande, the mine manager’s residence, was built that same year. Casa Grande is now home to the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum. Trail users today can hike or pedal past Day Tunnel, begun as New Tunnel in 1857 and later named for one of the mine’s early superintendents, Sherman Day.
During the 1850s, mine officials lived in comfortable housing around the Hacienda, but the miners—mostly Mexicans and Native Americans—occupied ramshackle and hastily constructed dwellings in Spanishtown, which was at the head of Deep Gulch on Mine Hill. In addition to homes for the miners, Spanishtown consisted of a dusty plaza, a cantina, a schoolhouse, and a Catholic church.
In 1858, the U.S. District Court hearing the land-grant case enjoined further ore extraction from New Almaden until the case could be settled. Superintendent Day packed his bags and headed for Folsom, California, where he had secured a job as a surveyor.
Henry W. Halleck, a partner in the San Francisco law firm Halleck, Billings and Peachy, began work on the Barron, Forbes Company’s legal problems but soon was recruited by Alexander Forbes to come down and run the mine as its first general manager. During the Civil War, Halleck, a West Point graduate, left the mine to become General-in-Chief of the Union armies and later their Chief of Staff.
In January 1861, the U.S. District Court issued its ruling, affirming certain aspects of Castillero’s original claim and rejecting others. Both sides—Castillero, represented by A. C. Peachy, and the U.S. District Attorney—appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and mining operations resumed.
In 1862, during the Civil War, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 4 to 3 against the Barron, Forbes Company, and in May 1863, President Lincoln ordered the company’s eviction on the legal basis that the land was in the public domain. However, as Lincoln knew, the mine also represented a valuable asset for the Union side in its fight against the Confederacy. In 1864, Secretary of the Interior John Palmer Usher sent one of Lincoln’s most trusted political allies, Leonard Swett, to secure the mine.
Facing the prospect of armed resistance from the miners, Swett called for federal troops, and the situation threatened to escalate out of control. Back in Washington, Swett’s clumsy attempts to carry out his instructions provoked the ire of Halleck and caused a dustup in Lincoln’s cabinet. Hearing howls of public outcry and feeling intense political pressure, Lincoln was forced to back down.
In 1864, the Barron, Forbes Company ended its venture in New Almaden, after having extracted and processed about $15 million worth of mercury. The final legal settlement required the Barron, Forbes Company to sell its 8,580 acres of ore-rich property, along with all mining developments, to the newly formed Quicksilver Mining Company for $1.75 million.
The change in ownership brought new management to the mine. Samuel Fowler Butterworth, a lawyer who was president of the Quicksilver Mining Company at the time of acquisition, served as general manager of the New Almaden Mines from 1864 to July 1870. He established a company store and a school for the miners’ children, improved the transport of cinnabar ore via a new rail system, and sought to improve both the efficiency of the mine and the living and working conditions of the miners.
Under Butterworth’s tenure, the mine and its environs began to resemble a feudal estate, with a toll gate, fences, and no-trespassing signs. After Butterworth resigned in 1870, the company sent out from the New York office its secretary, James Butterworth Randol, who was 34 years old and had no technical knowledge of—or practical experience in—running a mine.
Randol, a nephew of Butterworth, soon overcame these challenges and began improvements in the mine’s operations that brought it to the pinnacle of success. He oversaw developments in furnace efficiency and ordered a shaft bored deep into the heart of Mine Hill to increase ore output. The Randol Shaft, produced $10 million in mercury through 1896.
During the 1850s and 1860s, many Cornish miners, driven from their homeland by the decline of native copper mining and competition from abroad, sought work in America. Randol recruited these experienced miners to come to New Almaden. They lived on Mine Hill in Englishtown. This settlement included a school, a boarding house, a community center, a general store, and a Methodist Episcopal church.
Randol instituted a health welfare plan to provide medical care to employees and their families; each employee was required to pay one dollar per month for coverage in the miner’s fund. The 1890 census report of New Almaden shows about 1,400 people in residence. When Randol resigned in 1892, he was convinced that the mine was all but played out, having thus overseen both its rise to superstar status in the mining world and its decline to near unprofitability.
Randol was succeeded by Robert Bulmore, an Englishman who had served as Randol’s cashier and foreman at New Almaden. Bulmore and his family lived at Casa Grande. He was the last mine official to do so.
The Quicksilver Mining Company declared bankruptcy in 1912, Mine Hill operations were shut down, and soon Spanishtown and Englishtown were abandoned to the elements. The Senador Mine, about 3 miles northwest of Mine Hill, was improved in 1909 with a new shaft. A reduction furnace was installed in 1915.
By 1927, however, no new ore could be found and the Senador Mine was closed, with its operator, the New Almaden Corporation, also declaring bankruptcy. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), established a camp on Mine Hill in the 1930s, with companies of men living in Englishtown and working as fire-protection crews, scraping out fire roads and erecting lookout towers.
From 1928 to the 1970s, various small operators worked the shafts at New Almaden. The declining price of mercury, combined with the increasing awareness of the dangers of mercury as a pollutant, forced mining operations to shut down in 1976.
In 1973, Santa Clara County had acquired the New Idria Mining Corporation’s land, not including the Mine Hill area—some 2,455 acres. Two years later, the county bought the rest of the corporation’s property—1,115 acres—and Almaden Quicksilver joined the roster of county parks.
Among the challenges the county faced before opening the park to the public were cleaning up any residual mercury contamination and closing any open shafts for safety reasons.
In 1994, Santa Clara County and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District concluded a joint purchase of 907 on Jacques Ridge, which is on the southwest edge of the park, near Hicks Road. This purchase facilitated a trail connection with the Woods Trail in MROSD’s adjoining Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve.
In 2004, this trail connection became one more link in the ever-expanding Bay Area Ridge Trail. The county’s purchase in 2009 of the Rancho San Vicente property from Peninsula Open Space Trust, which also adjoins Almaden Quicksilver, will help create a huge unbroken swath of parks and open space in southern Santa Clara County.
When the department acquired the land that would become Almaden Quicksilver County Park, it faced the question of what to do about the historic structures, including Casa Grande, the mine manager’s residence.
The department decided the building would be rehabilitated to what it was like during the mine’s heyday in the late 1800s, in keeping with the entire New Almaden district’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. Casa Grande is now the site of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum, which contains a collection of historic artifacts purchased by the county in 1983 from Constance Perham, a longtime resident of New Almaden who had been running the district’s museum since 1949.
In addition to the museum, Casa Grande will soon have a multipurpose room for events and audiovisual presentations, a warming kitchen to service weddings and other parties, and a large patio—all surrounded by landscaping based on historic photographs. The top floor of the building will be devoted to temperature-controlled archival storage of documents and photographs, along with computers and scanners to create a digital library that will be accessible to the public by appointment.
Off-road vehicle enthusiasts flock to this 442-acre park beside Metcalf Road in San Jose, attracted by more than 20 miles of trails that traverse rolling grasslands, chaparral-cloaked hillsides, and riparian woodlands. Eight of these 20 miles are single-track “enduro” trails for experts; the rest are suitable for beginning and intermediate riders.
The park also includes a variety of different track areas: motocross competition track, T.T. track (named for the annual Tourist Trophy races on the Isle of Man), grand prix track, A.T.V. track, oval track, mini-motocross track, beginners oval track, and a 0.05-mile paved oval track, operated by the Baylands Quarter Midget Racing Association, for quarter-midget racing and practice.
The park’s serpentine soils create a unique habitat which support a few rare and endangered plants, including Metcalf Canyon jewelflower, Mount Hamilton thistle, and Santa Clara dudleya. Other plants found here California poppies, goldfields, Mariposa lilies, and yarrow.
The park may also be home to the California red-legged frog and the bay checkerspot butterfly, both federally listed as threatened species. The county parks department has identified sensitive plant and animal habitats and has taken steps to preserve and protect them, including closing some trails, restricting new trail development, and controlling erosion and sedimentation in the park’s waterways.
The county parks and recreation department first became involved in creating an off-road vehicle park in 1974, when it received the park’s nucleus—some 227 acres—by transfer from Santa Clara County. As with many parks in the county system, the land that became Motorcycle Park was probably used for thousands of years by the Ohlone people for hunting game and gathering edible plants.
The Anza colonizing expedition explored the area in the spring of 1776. After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government in Alta California began issuing land grants to some of its citizens for the purpose of ranching and farming.
Most of Motorcycle County Park was part of Rancho Refugio de la Laguna Seca, or “dry lake,” granted in 1834 to Juan Alvires by Jose Figueroa, governor of Alta California. The rancho sprawled over nearly 20,000 acres of the Santa Clara Valley and its neighboring foothills between present-day Morgan Hill and Metcalf Road in the southern part of San Jose.
There are several stories as to how the rancho came to be acquired in 1845 by Captain William Fisher, a seafaring man who made his way from the East Coast to Baja California and then to Alta California. Along the way he married to Liberata Cesena, a Mexican woman, with whom he raised six children—four sons and two daughters.
One story has Alvires selling Fisher the rancho for $6,000 at a public auction to pay off debts incurred when he was forced to host the army of the new governor of Alta California, Manuel Micheltorena, during the rebellion of 1844.
A different version says Alvires lost his ranch for nonpayment of debts, but that there were no bidders at the auction, because cash was required for purchase. Instead, Jose Antonio Aquirre, who held the major share of Alvires’s debt, acquired the property on condition that he pay off the other creditors. Three days later, Aquirre sold the rancho to Fisher for $3,000, with William Gulnac, Fisher’s brother-in-law, acting as agent.
Fisher himself is a bit hard to pin down, being born variously in England in 1810 or in Boston in 1813, depending on which source you believe. Nevertheless, Fisher moved his family from Baja California to San Jose in 1846 and set himself up in the mercantile business, using his rancho to raise horses and cattle. Fisher moved his family to the rancho in 1849, when poor health forced him to retire; he died the following year.
Liberata remarried in 1851 to an English physician named George Bull. That same year, one of the Fisher daughters, Mary, married Daniel Murphy, son of the early California pioneer Martin Murphy, whose family had large land holdings in the Santa Clara Valley. Outliving her second husband, Dr. Bull, who died in 1854, Liberata married again, this time to Caesar Piatti in 1858.
Joseph D. Grant 1975
This park, located just 7 miles east of San Jose, is considered by many outdoor enthusiasts as the jewel in the crown of the county park system. Its 9,553 acres makes it the largest Santa Clara County park. The park’s remote feel and diversity of both landscape and habitat make visiting here an enriching experience.
The cultural history of the park can be related to the four distinct groups of people who occupied or used the land: Native American hunter-gatherers, Spanish and Mexican cattle ranchers, Anglo-American ranchers, and the Grant family.
More than 50 miles of trails—mostly former ranch roads—beckon hikers and equestrians; bicyclists have access to about half of these. Occasionally, the park is the site of large-scale trail events, such as foot races, mountain bike trials, and endurance rides for equestrians. Picnicking and camping are also popular pastimes here, with shaded picnic spots, group picnic areas, and family and youth campsites.
Grant Lake and several small ponds provide fishing opportunities. Visitors can also enjoy attending interpretive programs and visiting the park’s historic sites. Grant Ranch was acquired in 1975 and opened to the public as a county park in 1978.
Nestled in the foothills of the Diablo Range on the east side of the Santa Clara Valley, the park’s topography consists of two ridges, which trend northwest–southeast, bordering Halls Valley, a rift holding San Felipe Creek. The still-active Calaveras Fault runs through Halls Valley, accounting for the area’s dramatic setting.
Just east of the park is hulking Mt. Hamilton, topped by Copernicus Peak. Clustered around Mt. Hamilton’s summit are the white domes of the University of California’s Lick Observatory.
The county park’s main entrance, along with all its developed facilities and active-use areas, is in Halls Valley, off Mt. Hamilton Road. Also in the valley is the ranch house complex, consisting of the ranch house, cook house, tank house, guest house, and carriage house.
A high trailhead, called Twin Gates, is located along Mt. Hamilton Road, 3.4 miles southeast of the main entrance. Nonnative grasslands, oak savannas, and oak woodlands—mostly black, blue, coast live, and valley—dominate the landscape, and a monitored program of cattle grazing in areas of the park helps control unwanted vegetation. Shrublands, riparian vegetation, and wet-meadow vegetation cover 5 percent of the park’s total acreage.
Spring wildflowers are a prime attraction. Visitors may spot such colorful bloomers as lupine, blue-eyed grass, fiddleneck, bluedicks, scarlet pimpernel, owl’s clover, mule ears, Johnny jump-up, checkerbloom, California buttercup, yarrow, Chinese houses, winecup clarkia, California poppy, and popcorn flower.
The park is also a fine place to scan the skies or peer into the underbrush for birds, including chestnut-backed chickadees, California towhees, California quail, northern flickers, oak titmice, scrub jays, sparrows, swallows, warblers, western bluebirds, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, and yellow-billed magpies. Raptors reported here include American kestrels, golden eagles, northern harriers, owls, peregrine falcons, prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks, and white-tailed kites.
Nearly 40 species of mammals reside in the park, including badger, bats, black-tailed jackrabbit, bobcat, brush rabbit, California ground squirrel, coyote, gray fox, long-tailed weasel, Merriam chipmunk, mice, mountain lion, mule deer, striped skunk, and raccoon. Feral pigs root here.
Among the local reptiles and amphibians are California newt, California whipsnake, common kingsnake, Pacific treefrog, red-legged frog, ringneck snake, salamanders, western fence lizard, western pond turtle, western rattlesnake, western skink, and western toad.
Joseph Donohoe Grant, the park’s namesake, was one of the towering figures who enliven California history. His father, Adam Grant, a native of Scotland, profited from the California Gold Rush, not by staking a claim in the Sierra but by selling supplies to miners. Adam Grant was a cofounder of Murphy, Grant & Company, a San Francisco dry-goods firm established in 1851.
J. D., who was born in 1858, joined the firm as a young adult but also had other business ventures. He founded the Columbia Steam Company, was president of the California-Oregon Power Company, and served on the boards of the Central Pacific Railroad and the General Petroleum Company. J. D.’s success in business enabled him to support various civic causes. He was an early member of the Sierra Club and chaired the executive committee of the Save the Redwoods League.
In addition to his ranch in Santa Clara County, J. D. owned a mansion in San Francisco, an Italianate country estate in Burlingame, and a coastal house near Carmel. He was a founding trustee of Stanford University—having befriended university founder Leland Stanford—and a member of the exclusive Bohemian Club in San Francisco. When at his ranch, J. D. often entertained politicians, celebrities, and outdoors enthusiasts. Herbert Hoover consoled himself with a month-long retreat at Grant Ranch after losing the 1932 presidential election to Franklin Roosevelt.
Adam Grant bought a parcel of rancho land from A. C. Hubbard in the early 1880s. Over time, Adam’s son J. D. eventually secured the 9,553 acres that comprise today’s park. In 1927, J. D. bought the two-story wood-frame ranch house with clapboard siding, brick chimneys, and second-story dormers, which had been built by Hubbard around 1881.
J. D. enjoyed his large estate as a retreat from the cares of the commercial world and a gateway to outdoor adventure, which included long rides on horseback. Dams and diversions altered some of the area’s watercourses, and what had been called Bernal Lagoon was rechristened Grant Lake.
In the 1930s, J. D. remodeled the ranch house as a proper dwelling for himself and his wife, Edith. He also succeeded in getting Mt. Hamilton Road—built in 1876 in preparation for construction of the Lick Observatory—relocated about half a mile northeast of his ranch house, so as to preserve his privacy.
In 1933, the Grant’s daughter Josephine was married to Capt. Selby McCreery, a retired British army officer who owned a 45,000-acre cattle ranch south of Hollister. J. D. died in 1942, and Edith died in 1946. After her mother died, Josephine bought out her two siblings, becoming the sole owner of the Grant Ranch. After separating from her husband in 1958, Josephine decided to live at the ranch full time. Capt. McCreery died in 1971, and Josephine died the next year.
The Grant Ranch was a “dot on the map” in the larger vision of the county-parks system, according to Dominic Cortese, who served as county supervisor from 1969 through 1980 and helped lead the negotiations to acquire the property. Cortese said he remembers talking about the Grant Ranch with Bob Amyx, the director of the county parks and recreation department, and discussing whether purchasing the ranch would be feasible, both financially and politically.
In making plans to acquire the Grant Ranch, the county had its eyes on a parkland prize of incomparable value. “That ranch is probably the best open space land in the state,” Cortese said.
Cortese was in a unique position to help negotiate the county’s purchase of the ranch. The Cortese family was in the ranching business. Years earlier Cortese’s father had acquired some of the original Grant Ranch property along its eastern slope, land that Josephine Grant McCreery, Joseph’s daughter and then sole owner of the ranch, apparently considered “a nuisance.”
When McCreery died, she left the Grant Ranch to the Save the Redwoods League and the Menninger Foundation, on whose board she had served. The Save the Redwoods League was dedicated to protecting the ancient forest along the Northern California and southern Oregon coasts. According to Cortese, the Save the Redwoods League was perfectly willing to sell to the county. The league knew full well that if the county acquired the Grant Ranch, it would remain open space, and the league could then go out and acquire additional land that was more redwood oriented, he said.
Cortese said loca opposition the the park purchase was spearheaded by San Jose attorney Jim Boccardo, a personal-injury specialist with a national reputation, thanks in part to the 1946 murder trial of cattleman Tom Talle, in which Boccardo served as both the defendant’s lawyer and one of his star witnesses.
“Boccardo came in and opposed the acquisition,” Cortese said. “Made a personal appearance before the board—very dramatic and very colorful. He pointed his finger at me and said, ‘You should know better.’ Not only did he appear before the board, but he filed an injunction.”
Boccardo’s contention? That the county was paying far to much for backcountry “rattlesnake” land that was practically inaccessible. The case wound up in court, with Cortese, county executive Howard Campen, and several attorneys from the county council’s office on one side, and Boccardo on the other.
Boccardo called Cortese as a witness. “He pulled me up to the witness table and said, ‘Look at this, Cortese, look at this!’ He’s got a stack of appraisals—and they’re probably our appraisals—and he’s showing us land that was actually down here in the flatlands, off the hill. Showing us comps that people had paid a hell of a lot more than we were paying. But he saw those as better pieces of property, even though people were paying more money for them. It was a show. He’s a great trial lawyer. You can’t take anything away from him.”
Presiding over the case was Judge Richard “Dusty” Rhodes. Apparently, the judge was immune to showmanship. He called Boccardo into his chambers. When they emerged, the judge announced to those assembled in the courtroom that he was ordering Boccardo to post a $750,000 bond, which would be forfeited to the county in the event the injunction process interfered with the county’s “prospective advantage” to acquire Grant Ranch.
Boccardo refused, pleading lack of funds, which Cortese called “very arguable.” Some say Boccardo had set his sights on owning the Grant Ranch himself and wanted to elbow the county out of the picture.
With the legal challenge swept away, the county proceeded with acquiring the property. All that remained in the way of opposition was a flurry of editorials in the San Jose Mercury News opposing the purchase and suggesting the land, despite sitting astride the Calaveras Fault, would be better used as the site of the new San Jose International Airport.
The paper later saw the error of its ways, Cortese said, and began giving favorable coverage to the new park after the land was acquired and development of park trails and facilities had begun.
Field Sports 1976
This 93-acre park offers shooting enthusiasts a place to hone their rifle and pistol skills, along with the opportunity to practice trap and skeet shooting. The park features paved and unpaved trails for hiking and bicycling, picnic areas, horseshoe pits, fishing, and youth-group camping.
The county acquired the land for Field Sports County Park in 1976 in the same transaction that created Motorcycle County Park, swapping some acreage with United Technologies Corporation. The original plan was to name the park Winchester Sportsmen’s Park and have it operated by the Winchester Rifle Company.
The local connection with the famous gun manufacturer is through Sarah L. Winchester, widow of the company’s founder, William Wirt Winchester. Following the death in 1866 of the couple’s only child, Annie Pardee (age about one month), and then of her husband, William, in 1881, Sarah became convinced—perhaps after consulting a spiritualist—that the deaths of her husband and daughter were caused by a curse invoked by the victims of Winchester’s killing machines.
To appease the spirits of the victims, and to save her own life, Sarah was instructed to move to the West Coast and build a house where the spirits could repose—with the proviso that the construction must never cease. Work on what became known as the Winchester Mystery House began in 1884 and did not end until Sarah’s death, at age 85, in 1922.
Sarah’s 160-room penance—a Queen Anne masterpiece with touches of Victorian architecture, Tiffany glass, and gold-plated fixtures—is estimated to have cost $5 million. Although the name “Winchester” certainly would have given the park some historical clout, many people, including members of the county board of supervisors, balked at so blatant a connection with hunting; some also took issue with the gender bias inherent in the word “sportsmen.” Thus the more innocuous name, Field Sports, was chosen.
With 3,493 acres of diverse terrain to explore, visitors to Calero County Park have almost limitless options for outdoor recreation. Boaters can enjoy plying the waters of Calero Reservoir, one of four in the county parks still open to watercraft. A boat-inspection program is in place at the four reservoirs to control the spread of quagga and zebra mussels, both invasive nonnative species. Hikers and equestrians can find fulfilling routes along the park’s nearly 19 miles of backcountry trails, many of which can be done as loop trips.
Views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and southern Santa Clara County abound from the parks high places. The adjoining Rancho Canada del Oro Open Space Preserve, owned by the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, has several loop routes, about 8 miles total length, for multiple use.
The open space preserve has its own staging area, at the end of Casa Loma Road, but can also be accessed via trail connections from within the county park. There is a short whole-access trail near the open space staging area, suitable for disabled visitors or anyone desiring a smooth, gentle trail.
Other activities at the county park include fishing (catch and release only), interpretive programs, picnicking, and visiting the park’s historic sites.
The county parks and recreation department began managing recreational access to Calero Reservoir in 1968, while also developing trails, picnic areas, and other recreational facilities. The reservoir is 2.2 miles long, has a surface area of 349 acres, and can store up to 9,934 acre-feet of water.
Both power and nonpower boats are welcome on the reservoir, along with personal watercraft. Anglers may be tempted by the reservoir’s large populations of bass, crappie, and sunfish. Two waterside sites with picnic tables and barbeques are available on a first-come, first-served basis; there is also one reservable group picnic area.
There is a large staging area next to the park office on the park entrance road, which may be reserved for organized events and gatherings. Nearby is an equestrian center with horse rentals.
The park’s backcountry lands were acquired by the county in the late 1960s and the 1970s, primarily from the Fellows Ranch, also known as the Calero Ranch Trust.
The Rancho Canada de Oro property—some 2,428 acres—was acquired in February 2003 thanks to the joint efforts of the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department, the City of San Jose, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, and the Peninsula Open Space Trust, with grant funding provided by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. This purchase allowed for a 912-acre expansion of Calero County Park, with the rest of the land going to the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority for its Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, which adjoins the county park to the southwest.
According to John Falkowski, the county park’s geographic information systems technician, with POST’s acquisition in May 2009 of the Rancho San Vicente property, which adjoins Calero on the northwest, the possibility exists for a huge swath of continuous open space to be created in southern Santa Clara County—some 35,000 acres, if you count Almaden Quicksilver County Park, Lexington Reservoir County Park, and MROSD’s Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve.
Falkowski also said the addition of a few small trail connections would allow unimpeded access to Sanborn County Park, El Sereno Open Space Preserve, and the entire South Skyline region. The county bought Rancho San Vicente from POST in October 2009. This purchase will expand Calero County Park by nearly 1,000 acres.
In addition to the reservoir shoreline and the shores of several small stock ponds, the county park’s habitats include oak woodland, chaparral, grassland, and riparian corridors. The reservoir and ponds attract egrets, herons, ducks, geese, and shorebirds.
Golden eagles—with wings stretched out horizontally, rather than in the V typical of turkey vultures—have been spotted cruising above this park. Other raptors flying overhead include osprey, red-tailed hawks, and white-tailed kites. More than 180 species of birds have been recorded in the park. Mammals calling the park home include bats, bobcat, coyote, fox, and mule deer.
Of particular interest to native-plant enthusiasts are the park’s serpentine rock outcrops, which provide habitat for a select group of plants that can thrive in nutrient-poor serpentine soil, which contains elements that are toxic to many other plants. In spring you may be treated to a fine display of California poppies (the state flower) and goldfields on one such outcrop just off the Javelina Loop Trail. Other park wildflowers include blue-eyed grass, bluedicks, California buttercup, checkerbloom, fiddleneck, Ithuriel’s spear, Johnny jump-up, lupine, and shooting stars.
Within the county park are four archeological sites used by the Ohlone people prior to European settlement. During the Mexican era, the present-day park included some of the pueblo lands of San Jose, along with parts of Rancho Canada del Oro and Rancho San Vicente.
In 1842, Jose Reyes Berryessa—whose ancestors came to Alta California in 1776 with the Anza colonizing expedition—was given a land grant in the hill and valley country south of San Jose by Juan Bautista Alvarado, the Mexican Governor of Alta California. Berryessa had retired from military service at the Presidio of San Francisco with the rank of sergeant, and he was now the grantee of Rancho San Vicente.
In 1845, one of the world’s richest deposits of cinnabar, the ore from which mercury is extracted, was discovered on Berryessa’s land and on land belonging to his neighbor, Justo Larios, grantee of Rancho de Los Capitancillos. The discovery was made by Andres Castillero, a captain in the Mexican army who had been schooled in chemistry, geology, and metallurgy.
Most Mexican land grants were enacted to give the grantee grazing rights, and thus the hilly areas, which were of particular interest to Castillero, were considered of little value by the ranchers. Thus, the land’s value was determined mostly in the eye of the beholder. Add to this nonchalant surveying techniques, as reported by Milton Lanyon and Lawrence Bulmore in Cinnabar Hills: the Quicksilver Days of New Almaden—“Castillero covered the hill area in company with Berryessa and Larios and casually intimated the total area he desired….four corners or roughly 3,000 varas.”
The result was a legal logjam that ultimately required the U.S. Supreme Court to clear. The court ruled in 1862 that the New Almaden Mine, as the huge venture Castillero initiated came to be called, was located on Rancho Los Capitancillos; but the reduction works, where the ore was vaporized and condensed into mercury, was located on Rancho San Vicente.
In 1864, parts of those lands were combined to become the Quicksilver Mining Company. In 1868, Berryessa’s heirs received a patent on the remaining 4,438 acres of Rancho San Vicente.
Calero Reservoir was one of six impoundments approved by voters in 1934 and built during 1935 and 1936 by the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation District. The land for the reservoir, in what was then called Calero Valley, had been used since the 19th century for ranching—first by Bailey family and then by the Newman brothers.
Sometime between 1867 and 1870, Boargenes R. Bailey built the Italianate Victorian house that stands at the southeast corner of Calero Reservoir. Bailey was born in Tennessee and trekked overland to California in 1850 with his younger brother, Dr. Bowling Bailey. After several years of successful prospecting in the Sierra Gold County, the brothers moved to Fremont Township, which comprised the present-day northern Santa Clara County.
In 1855, Boargenes married Elizabeth Ellen Sparks, who had come west in 1848 as a young girl when her family joined the Lassen Party on its trek to Northern California via the Pit River. Several years later, the couple moved to a cattle ranch in Tulare County, but in 1864 they returned to the Bay Area and settled in the Calero Valley, purchasing 874 acres of San Jose pueblo lands for ranching, farming, and fruit growing.
Nearby were large ranchos, including San Vicente, Las Uvas, and Laguna Seca. The Baileys had a large family, and Boargenes became involved with the Llagas School District—he served as a trustee and also donated land for construction of a school in 1875. Bailey died in 1883, and in 1903 his widow and other family members sold the ranch to the Newman brothers—Charles, Joseph, and Thomas—of Santa Cruz County. Elizabeth Bailey died in 1916 in Santa Clara County.
In 1935 the Newman Ranch was acquired by the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation District. When Calero Reservoir was built, the house, ranch, and orchards were protected by a levee designed to hold back the encroaching waters; Uvas Road was also relocated eastward.
From 1938 to 1966, the 2,000-acre Calero Rancho, as it was now called, was the homestead of Edward and Triscilla Fellows, who had been married in 1925. Fellows, who was born in 1900 or 1901 to immigrant parents from the Azores, obtained his law degree from Santa Clara University in 1923, and one year later he set up his legal practice in San Jose. In addition to representing clients, Fellows also taught law at his alma mater.
The Fellows ran cattle on their property and operated a farm, but they also used the ranch and the house for entertaining and large gatherings, such as the annual Santa Clara County Bar Association barbeque. Fellows was one of the founders of the Santa Clara County Horsemen’s Association, a precursor to the California State Horsemen’s Association, a group he served as its first president.
In 1956, Fellows joined the bench in Morgan Hill as a judge. On January 18, 1965, Fellows was killed when the car he was in was hit by a train at Bailey Avenue and Monterey Highway. In 1967, the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation District bought the Bailey-Fellows House, as it is now called, and the adjoining stables.
Penitencia Creek 1977
Penitencia Creek County Park is a linear park made up of various parklands and open spaces owned by Santa Clara County, the City of San Jose, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. A 1.7-mile paved trail runs through the park, with an eastern trailhead at Piedmont Road and a western trailhead at Maybury Road.
Visitors to the park can enjoy walking, jogging, hiking, bicycling, nature study, picnicking, and interpretive programs. Access is available by public transit. The county parks and recreation department manages parts of the Penitencia Creek Trail and Penitencia Creek Gardens, which are at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Maybury Road.
The gardens were completed in the early 1990s but were damaged by flooding in 1996. The gardens are planted with native grasses—which are largely absent from the manicured lawns found in most city parks—along with some native wildflowers.The local community helped plan the gardens, and many of the trees shading the grassy meadows were planted by community members.
The City of San Jose runs Penitencia Creek Park, which is just south of Berryessa Road and about a quarter mile east of Piedmont Road, between Summerdale School and Piedmont Middle School. The Berryessa Community Center is located within the city park. A creekside regional trail is envisioned that will link Coyote Creek and the City of San Jose’s 700-acre Alum Rock Park. This regional trail is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail’s proposed alignment through San Jose.
The creek’s name reflects the religious activities conducted by padres from nearby missions at San Jose and Santa Clara. The padres apparently meditated and heard confessions in a small adobe that stood beside the creek. The land bordering the creek—then called Arroyo Aquaje—was granted in 1778 to the inhabitants of San Jose by King Charles III of Spain. The creek provided much needed water for stock animals and was also a water source for those traveling between the pueblo of San Jose and the missions in San Jose and Santa Clara.
Prior to European settlement, the Ohlone people lived in this area and named the creek shistuk, or “place of the rabbits.” In the late 1800s, farming and fruit growing began to replace ranching as Santa Clara Valley’s predominant agricultural enterprises. Along Penitencia Creek, farmers cleared the land by removing many of the native riparian trees, including alders, sycamores, and willows.
In 1906, the Outdoor Art League, a San Jose women’s organization, planted nonnative eucalyptus trees along the creek in an attempt to protect the creekside habitat. In 1918, county supervisor Henry Ayers formalized the preservation effort by suggesting that the county acquire the riparian corridor bordering the creek.
As the City of San Jose grew, the issue of protecting the creek became more urgent, and various proposals for creekside parks were conceived. However, it took until 1972—two years after passage of the first Park Charter Fund—for the county board of supervisors to allocate $3.5 million to create a master plan for a creekside park and to acquire land. Other agencies involved in this effort included the City of San Jose, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, and the East Side Union and Berryessa Union school districts.
In addition to preserving natural habitats and providing recreational opportunities for the area’s residents, the creekside park has a flood-control mission to protect the surrounding neighborhood. Planning for flood control along Penitencia Creek has been ongoing for many years, said Mark Frederick, park development manager for the county parks and recreation department.
“When I first came to the Parks Department in 1988, the very first public meeting I went to was a public meeting on the water district presenting their plans for flood control along Penitencia Creek,” Frederick said. “Here we are in 2009, and they’re still working on that same project. It’s Army Corps funded, so the money keeps coming and going.”
Frederick said the plan is to widen the flood plain, but this will affect a sizable percentage of the county park’s land. “The one thing we’re telling the water district is they have to make sure that if the trail is moved, it has to be moved so it’s accessible to the public.” Also, any such realignment might provide both a great opportunity and a compelling impetus to complete the trail, Frederick said.
Rancho San Antonio 1977
The county’s small holding of 130 acres at Rancho San Antonio County Park serves as a gateway to one of the best loved and most heavily used areas for outdoor recreation in the Bay Area—Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
About 23 miles of trails for hiking, jogging, walking, and horseback riding thread their way through this 3,861-acre preserve—along the lush riparian corridor of Permanente Creek, through the grasslands of the Rogue Valley, across the chaparral-clad hillsides leading up to the Duveneck Windmill Pasture Area, and eventually to the 2,800-foot summit of Black Mountain.
The county park features short trails for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Bicycles must stay on paved trails and are not allowed west of Deer Hollow Farm, which is in the open space preserve. Horseback riders must use the equestrian staging area and stay on the Coyote Trail until reaching the open space preserve.
The county park also has a grassy area for informal play, an area for model airplanes (no gas engines), picnic tables, barbeques, four tennis courts, and two handball courts.
Both the county park and the open space preserve support a wide variety of plant and animal life. Alder, black cottonwood, bigleaf maple, California bay, California buckeye, coast live oak, coast redwood, and willows thrive beside Permanente Creek and elsewhere at lower elevations. Higher up grow dryland oaks-—blue and scrub—along with such chaparral shrubs as buckbrush, California sagebrush, chamise, hollyleaf cherry, mountain mahogany, silk tassel, spiny redberry, sticky monkeyflower, and toyon.
Bird here include acorn woodpeckers, California thrashers, California quail, dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned sparrows, ravens, and Steller’s jays. Reptiles and amphibians include alligator lizards, California newts, gopher snakes, Pacific treefrogs, western rattlesnakes, and western toads. Among the mammals calling this area home are black-tailed jackrabbits, bobcats, brush rabbits, coyotes, desert cottontails, mule deers, opossums, and mountain lions.
Rancho San Antonio is a great place to see wildlife, especially if you arrive early in the morning before crowds of visitors arrive. Dianne McKenna, who was a county supervisor from 1984 until 1997, loved to jog at Rancho before going to work in San Jose. One morning, as McKenna was jogging away from the parking area, she spotted a mountain lion. Luckily, McKenna said, the lion was heading away from her, into the park’s backcountry. “They don’t hang around when people are around. And that was the only time I saw one. He was just beautiful.”
The land that became the county park and the adjoining open space preserve was once home to the Ohlone people. Europeans arrived in 1776 with the Anza colonizing expedition. Mission Santa Clara de Asis was established nearby the following year.
“San Antonio” was the name of a land grant totaling more than 4,400 acres, given in 1839 to Juan Prado Mesa by Juan Bautista Alvarado, the Mexican governor of Alta California. Mesa, a soldier at the presidio of San Francisco and a member of a military guard unit, chose the name to honor St. Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan saint.
The rancho, bordered by present-day Adobe and Stevens creeks, formerly belonged to Mission Santa Clara de Asis, but the land was expropriated after the Mexican government secularized the missions of Alta California in the mid-1830s.
Mesa’s good fortune in real estate did not bring him financial security, and he died in 1845, heavily in debt. Statehood in 1850 and the California Land Claims Act in 1851 brought court challenges to many of the large Mexican ranchos, including San Antonio, which were often parceled off to pay the grantee’s legal expenses.
The county park had its genesis in land purchased in 1861 by John and Martha Snyder—perhaps more than 1,000 acres of the former Rancho San Antonio—lying along Permanente Creek. The Snyders used their land to raise grain and pasture livestock. They also grew prunes and cultivated grapes for wine.
In 1883, Snyder built a two-story house in the Craftsman style, which is still standing, for his daughter and her husband, Dr. W. H. Hammond. John Snyder, who had been born in Indiana in 1828 and came to Santa Clara County in 1850, died in 1901. Martha lived on the ranch until 1919, when she passed away.
The Catholic Church bought the Snyder’s property in 1923, which three years later became the site of St. Joseph’s and Maryknoll seminaries.
The earthquake of 1989 damaged St. Joseph’s Seminary beyond repair, and it had to be torn down. Maryknoll Seminary, which is east of the park across Cristo Rey Drive, is known for its international architecture, combining the Spanish mission style with a Baroque bell tower, a Romanesque chapel, and Asian touches on the tower and roof.
The county parks and recreation department acquired 130 acres here in 1977 and purchased another 35 acres from St. Joseph’s Seminary in 1981. Initial park development occurred in the early 1980s, with additional improvements being completed in 1993. In 2004, the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose donated a 130-acre parcel to the county in exchange for a permit to develop a luxury hilltop subdivision called Oak Knoll.
The county parks and recreation department has a long-term lease agreement with Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to manage San Antonio County Park, which many people use as a parking-and-pass-through area to access the much larger open space preserve. The department does maintain a loop trail on land acquired from the diocese.
The Cupertino Historical Society is managing the Hammond-Snyder House, which is near the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, and has a caretaker living there. The City of Cupertino is in the process of identifying and protecting historic sites within the city limits, including the Hammond-Snyder House.
The open space preserve, which adjoins the county park to the west, has a more complex history. Among the claimants to Rancho San Antonio were San Francisco merchants William and Henry Dana, who in 1853 had purchased about 3,500 acres of the Mesa estate. Mesa’s heirs retained about 900 acres in the Rancho’s northern section along Adobe Creek.
In 1860, the Grant brothers from Boston—George H. and Theodore Frank, who went by his middle name—bought 360 acres to raise wheat, horses, and cows. They operated a dairy ranch and tried their hand at silver mining on the property. Their ranch complex, which forms the nucleus of today’s Deer Hollow Farm, consisted of a Victorian house and farm buildings. Two of these—a carriage house and an apple shed—are still standing. Two barns stood near the house; these have been rebuilt on their original sites.
Frank, a music lover, owned an Edison phonograph, a novelty in the Santa Clara Valley. When visitors came to the ranch to listen to this technological marvel, Frank would seat his audience outdoors and position the machine’s speaker to project through an open window. According to Frank’s grandson, Louis Grant, the slightest disturbance among the assembled listeners would cause his grandfather to turn off the music and dismiss his guests.
City of San Jose: Guadalupe River Park
According to Lisa Killough, former director of the county parks and recreation department, cooperation between Santa Clara County and the City of San Jose on the Guadalupe River Park began in the late 1980s, largely through the leadership of county supervisor Zoe Lofgren. Lofgren served as supervisor from 1981 to 1994, when she was elected to represent the 16th District in the U.S. Congress.
Killough said Lofgren supported the county’s participation in the development of Guadalupe River Park for two reasons. First, the park had regional qualities that were important to support. Second, the river corridor had long been part of the park department’s regional trail plan. Killough said the county spent around $20 million on the project, mostly for land acquisition. “It’s one of the biggest partnerships in terms of funding that we’ve ever done as a department,” she said.
Internal politics within the parks and recreation department also became “somewhat divisive at the time,” said Killough, because many park department staffers felt this project involved giving up too much money to San Jose. In retrospect, Killough said she believes the county’s financial contribution was worthwhile, given what was gained for the region’s residents.
“If you look at what was created—and the fact that there’s just not a lot of money available for acquisition in this area period—it did make sense at a lot of different levels that the county helped, because it was a multi-million dollar project,” she said.
Today, the Guadalupe River Park, which borders the river for 2.6 miles between Interstates 280 and 880, provides recreational opportunities in the center of downtown San Jose, including walking, jogging, bicycling, playing, and nature study. In addition, flood control was integrated into the park’s design, providing protection for neighboring homes and businesses while preserving the river’s natural setting.
The park’s riparian habitat and various gardens provide a haven for wildlife in an area otherwise noted for urban sprawl. The river itself is an important migratory route for Chinook salmon and steelhead, two fish species that spend most of their lives in saltwater but spawn in freshwater rivers and creeks.
City of Sunnyvale: Sunnyvale Baylands Park
The idea for Sunnyvale Baylands Park dates back to the 1960s and an ongoing effort to provide regional recreational opportunities for residents of northern Santa Clara County.
In 1965, the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale each made proposals to the county parks and recreation commission to develop shoreline parks alongside San Francisco Bay. Mountain View soon received some county funding for its Shoreline Park, but Sunnyvale had to wait until 1973 before the county began pitching in to help acquire and develop what would become by 1994 Sunnyvale Baylands Park, which is managed by the City of Sunnyvale’s park and recreation department.
“The county had a major stake in this one—not only providing the land but providing a good chunk of money to get the park going,” Killough said. “It went through several iterations in terms of a master plan. I think there was a master plan that was done in the 80s that was a little bit too ambitious in terms of the impacts to the bay. And it had too many impacts to wetland areas, which was definitely a problem for environment groups and regulatory folks. So over time the county and the city partnered together to redo the master plan to take a much reduced viewpoint of what the footprint of this park should be. It left quite a bit of the park in the natural state, in a wetland state, and didn’t impinge into the wetland area at all.”
Today, Sunnyvale Baylands Park includes more than 70 acres of developed parkland and another 105 acres of protected seasonal wetlands that provide habitat for various animals, such as the salt marsh harvest mouse, federally listed since 1970 as an endangered species, and the burrowing owl, a California species of special concern. In all, more than 60 species of birds have been recorded at the park, including migratory shorebirds and waterfowl, which concentrate in San Francisco Bay in large numbers during fall through spring.
The park’s undeveloped wetlands also provide protection from flooding, filtration of pollutants, recharge areas for groundwater absorption, and breeding and shelter zones for marine animals. Park amenities include picnic sites, play areas for children, an amphitheater providing lawn seating up to 300 people, and more than 2 miles of unpaved paths for walking, jogging, and bicycling.
City of Gilroy: Debell Uvas Creek Park Preserve
In 1983, the county prepared a master plan for a preserve along approximately 27 acres along Uvas-Carnadero Creek in Gilroy. As part of the county’s planning process, hearings were held in Gilroy to receive comments from the public and from city officials about possible uses for the creek. Boat rentals, fishing, percolation ponds, and a new venue for the Gilroy Garlic Festival—with permanent booths on land located west of Christmas Hill Park—were among the ideas put forth at the hearing.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District noted that the proposed new garlic festival venue was in a flood zone, whereupon festival organizers suggested raising the permanent boots on stilts to allow for periods of high water.
Felice Errico was the department’s park planner at the time. As a result of the 1983 planning process, he said, the City of Gilroy saw a great opportunity to increase its greensward along Uvas-Carnadero Creek west of Christmas Hill Park—at no cost to the city—and perhaps build a first-class park of its own within the city limits.
At the time he worked on park acquisition and the county’s master plan, Errico said, Gilroy city officials, their staff, and the organizers of the Gilroy Garlic Festival shared the same goal—to increase the festival’s attendance. This would require additions to Christmas Hill Park and the creation of additional parking areas
“To make the site more appealing, the new Garlic Festival site would have more permanent fixtures to insure longevity, and the site would have other functional uses for local residents,” Errico said. “Any increase in the Garlic Festival attendance would require larger parking acreages to meet the demand. Both the City of Gilroy officials and staff and the Garlic Festival group were keenly aware that the festival was a great success, and that the County of Santa Clara had plenty of money for acquisition from the 1972 measure.”
Today, Uvas-Carnadero Creek in Gilroy is bordered by a chain of parks. Uvas Creek Park Preserve, a 125-acre creekside park between Santa Teresa Boulevard and West Luchessa Avenue, was renamed in 2003 to honor Dennis Debell.
Debell, a local builder who had served his community as a council member, planning commissioner, and a director of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, left the city $1 million to restore and help protect the riparian corridor along Uvas Creek—which had been badly degraded by sand and gravel extraction, the dumping of cars and appliances, and an invasion of nonnative plants.
Most of the restoration took place in the mid-1990s, with some of it later destroyed by flooding.
Town of Los Gatos and Cities of Campbell and San Jose: The Los Gatos Creek Trail
Public interest, a county parks department master plan, and an initial acquisition of 10.2 acres—all of which took place in the mid-1960s—formed the foundation of the Los Gatos Creek Trail.
Lisa Killough said the effort to create the trail was truly a partnership between the county, the Town of Los Gatos, the cities of Campbell and San Jose, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Early leaders of the effort were county supervisor Rod Diridon and Don Hebard, chair of the Campbell planning commission.
The City of Campbell partnered with the county in 2000 to create a master plan for Los Gatos Creek County Park, which sits at about the midpoint on the Los Gatos Creek Trail. One result of the park master plan was the creation of an off-leash dog park within the county park.
“They’ve been a great partner at getting things done and moving things forward,” Killough said. “They view Los Gatos Creek Park as one of the jewels in their city, even though it’s a county facility.”
Killough said there are two lessons to be drawn from the hard work that has gone into creating the Los Gatos Creek Trail: partnerships do work, and trails don’t happen overnight.
“This is a trail system that’s literally been in progress since the early seventies, and we’re still working on it,” she said. “In fact, the county is working right now with the City of San Jose on helping them fund some acquisition in the downtown corridor—that is going to help make the connection all the way to the Guadalupe River Trail.”
Three major waterways flow right through downtown San Jose—Los Gatos Creek, Coyote Creek, and the Guadalupe River—and Killough said these offer streamside trail systems in a highly urbanized area.
Cities of Cupertino and Mountain View: The Stevens Creek Trail
As early as 1959, county planners had their eyes on a trail beside Stevens Creek that would run from the shore of San Francisco Bay to the spine of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
In September 1961, the county published a brochure called “Stevens Creek Park Chain,” and likened the proposed greensward to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., and the Arroyo Seco Parks in Los Angeles. “County and city general plans predict that 70,000 to 80,000 people will be living within a half mile walking distance of the creek by 1985,” the brochure stated.
While plans for trails along Coyote and Los Gatos creeks were moving forward, planning for Stevens Creek was haphazard at best. A report released by the Santa Clara County Grand Jury at the end of 1965 criticized the county for “utter confusion and indecision” regarding a proposed park chain along Stevens Creek.
Not much changed in the next 20 years, according to Lisa Killough, who began work as a park planner with the county parks and recreation department in 1985. She and another planner named Ruth Schreiber joined Felice Errico, who had been hired as a park planner in 1974.
“When I first came to the parks department, I remember Felice telling me, ‘I don’t think Stevens Creek Trail will ever get done,’” she said. “He was really distraught about it, because in the seventies, early eighties, a lot of houses were built right up to the creek. And even though the county had this vision for a trail going along Stevens Creek all the way up to the Skyline area, the land use patterns didn’t respect it.”
Killough said the secret to the Steven Creek Trail’s eventual success can be traced to cooperation from the cities of Mountain View and Cupertino and also from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
“Mountain View in particular really stepped up to the plate to look at that trail system and to make it an integral part of its city,” she said. “So they started the ball rolling, and they got a master plan going.” Killough said the planning process was tricky, because the trail alignment passed through heavily congested areas for almost its entire length from San Francisco Bay to Stevens Creek County Park. Killough credits planner Jana Sokale with putting the master plan into action.
“Jana really helped the city take it to the next level with fundraising and getting grants. That was in a period when the city came to the county and requested funding for the early phases of development. So I think that the county gave somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000 for the first phase of development.”
In terms of trail construction, Killough said Mountain View should be proud of its accomplishments, which include a 4.8-mile segment between Shoreline Park and Sleeper Avenue.
“It’s pretty amazing what the city has accomplished,” she said. “They have bridged the trail over major railroad crossings—and the bridge itself is a quarter of a mile long. They have tunneled under El Camino, which is a major thoroughfare in the whole Peninsula area—they’ve just finished this beautiful tunnel that goes underneath that. They have really worked hard to create this magnificent trail. The genesis of the trail was the county’s master plan. And the county did support the city on that.”
Cupertino, too, deserves credit, Killough said, for its work on the trail, which currently is a 0.7-mile segment between McClellan Road and Blackberry Farm. “Later on, Cupertino decided to do their master plan for the trail alignments in the city, and they’re still working on the implementation,” she said. “Both Mountain View and Cupertino are making incremental steps to completing the segments. And I think Mountain View is probably going to get there within the next five years, if not sooner.”
Cities of Cupertino, Santa Clara, and San Jose: The San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail
Planning for the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail began in 1993, when the county board of supervisors created a committee to plan the trail. In coordination with the cities of Cupertino, Santa Clara, and San Jose, the county parks and recreation department developed a master plan, released in 1999, for the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail.
When completed, the trail will generally follow the creeks from the Bay Trail near Sunnyvale Baylands Park to Prospect Road in Saratoga. Killough said the county took a leadership role in this project thanks to the efforts of county supervisors Rod Diridon Sr., who served from 1975 through 1994, and Jim Beall, who took office in 1994 and served through most of 2006, when he was elected to the California State Assembly.
“This is another one where Rod Diridon got out in front, and then Jim Beall took the mantle,” she said. “Rod Diridon decided that this other heavily urbanized area needed a regional streamside trail system. The trail actually doesn’t touch any county areas, but because it goes through three jurisdictions, it’s one of those types of efforts where it’s hard to get things going because you have so many different partners involved. I think Rod saw that it was important for somebody to take a leadership role.”
When the master plan was released in 1999, grant money was a lot more available, Killough said. “So it was the perfect time to have a really well-thought-through master plan that in particular took a thoughtful approach to transportation planning. And so all the cities were able to get some really good grant funding and partnership funding to get a lot of the work done. Santa Clara has pretty much done most of the work in their city. And Cupertino and San Jose have also been very proactive in doing their portions too.”
In the case of the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail, the county did not provide money for acquisition of land along the trail alignment, Killough said. “We provided some seed money for grant support, but our main contribution was on the planning side, taking a leadership role on the planning side.”
Partnerships with Other Regional Trail Providers
In addition to partnering with local municipalities to create and enhance recreational trails, the department also is an important player in the Bay Area’s regional trail system, including the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and the Bay Trail.
Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
During 1775 and 1776, a Spanish colonizing expedition traveled overland from the presidio at Tuba, south of present-day Nogales, Arizona, to Alta, or upper, California, eventually reaching the shores of San Francisco Bay after a grueling 1,500-mile journey.
The National Park Service has designated the 1,210-mile route from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco as the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, to commemorate the expedition and help preserve its history. The Anza expedition left a rich legacy in Santa Clara County, one that can be encountered today at various parks and historic sites.
Former department director Lisa Killough said the Anza Trail has several features that make it unique. First, it is a multistate trail of national significance. Second, it includes both hiking and vehicular segments, with many of the historic roads in Santa Clara County corresponding to the expedition’s route. Third, many segments of the Anza Trail are also part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, making it of further regional significance.
Bay Area Ridge Trail
The Bay Area Ridge Trail,a proposed 550-mile route ridgeline route circling San Francisco and San Pablo bays was the brainchild of William Penn Mott Jr., who came up with the idea in the 1960s while serving as general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District.
In 1987, advocates for parks and trails formed the Bay Area Trails Council, which was soon renamed the Bay Area ridge Trail Council. The council’s goal was to link more than 75 parks and public lands with a continuous trail. Currently, 310 miles of the proposed route have been dedicated, with the newest segment being the Penitencia Creek Trail in east San Jose.
Santa Clara County has strategic importance for the Bay Area Ridge Trail, said Killough, because the trail traverses both sides of the county, running through the Diablo Range to the east and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. “We work with the Ridge Trail Council on connecting the pieces of the pie together,” she said. “Santa Clara County is a very important component of the Ridge Trail.”
The Bay Trail is a planned 500-mile route along the shoreline of all nine Bay Area counties. Currently, 290 miles of the regional route have been completed. Eventually, the trail will provide access to more than 130 parks and preserves with roughly 57,000 acres of open space.
Among the trail’s benefits are access to shoreline recreational opportunities, wildlife viewing and nature study, and bicycle commuting with links to public mass transit. Many of the Bay Trail’s goals mesh with the goals expressed in Santa Clara County’s master plan for trails, Killough said.
These include providing trail access close to major population centers and also creating opportunities for alternative forms of transportation, such as walking and bicycling. “One of the highest goals in the master plan is to complete the Bay Trail.”