Bear Creek Redwoods
Open Space Preserve

Our Park is Now Open
Neil Wiley

Two decades ago, Midpeninsula Open Space completed the purchase of the Bear Creek Redwoods. On June 8, for the first time, it was open to the public. No permit required. Now we have our own piece of open space right here in ZIP code 95033.

Yes, we have little St. Joseph’s Hill and giant Sierra Azul, but Bear Creek has more diverse and accessible environments, with acres of redwood, fir, and oak forests, open meadows, perennial creeks, and a wide range of scenic views. This is a place where you can enjoy natural beauty and solitude.

For those who want a short experience in nature, they can walk, push a stroller, or use a wheelchair around the paved Upper Lake Loop Trail. The all-access trail offers an easy walk around the lake to see restoration sites and historical artifacts. A brochure map at the preserve entrance offers a self-guided interpretive tour. (The map is also available online at Choose Bear Creek. Click on Trails, then again on Download interpretive tour map.)

The other new trail system is more challenging. First, you must cross Bear Creek Road from the parking lot to the trailhead. (Be careful. Push the crossing lights button, and watch for fast-moving traffic.)

Second, the Alma Trail climbs through wooded fir and redwood forest from the parking lot at 1,000 feet elevation to Madrone Knoll Trail at 2,400 feet. It is a steep climb, but the trail is an improved logging road in shade. Although steep, it’s worth the walk if you want to see old-growth redwoods and a few scenic views. When the Alma College area opens, easier trails will open for hikers and bikers.

If you want a group experience, sign up for a docent-led Alma Trail hike. Summer hikes are scheduled for August 7, 10, and 14. For more information, go to Midpen’s Bear Creek section, click on Trails, and then on Docent-led Activities.

There is another important aspect of the Bear Creek preserve that has the potential to become more than a walk in the woods. Midpen demonstrates the importance of culture and history on their website in their interactive story map called Layers of History. You’ll find it under story. It provides brief stories under the tabs—Intro, Nature, Ohlone, Logging era, Estates, Alma College, Preservation, and Stewardship.

Bear Creek Open Space Preserve is planning to preserve more than land. This place has a colorful, varied past, complete with the stories of Native Americans, hunters, loggers, toll-road builders, rich men, Jesuits, horses, and horse-lovers. Here were luxurious estates, including a forty-room villa complete with a hundred-person staff, and a Roman plunge pool.

For more than a century, horses played an important role in this history. They pulled logs, road-graders, and fancy carriages. They were in shows led by the Floods, Dr. Harry Tevis, Reginald Theobold, Lester and Helen Porter, stable managers, Jenny Whitman, and Friends of the Bear Creek Stables.

The century-old stable is now off-limits to the general public, but with a more reliable infrastructure, it could be an even more valuable resource to the community.

With all this history of horses and their owners, it would seem logical to create a living history. Why not offer carriage and wagon rides down the historical Flood Road, horse shows, horse-care clinics, hayrides, and celebrations of equine rescue? It would carry on a tradition and encourage more people, including disabled, elderly, and families with small children, to benefit from the preserve.

Another proud tradition is horticulture. Dr. Tevis hired 43 gardeners to care for his experimental garden with rare flowers and trees from throughout the world. He grew prize-winning dahlias, lilies, roses, fuchsias, and nandina shrubs. His $200,000 water system stored 11 million gallons of water. All the owners engaged in extensive landscaping. The Jesuits, perhaps more practical than the millionaires, developed several large vineyards.

Why not serve this tradition through community gardens? Master gardeners, 4-H families, unemployed workers, retirees, and others who want to grow plants could join together to create a sense of community and a bountiful harvest.

An even more ambitious but worthy project would be repurposing an Alma College building to a visitor’s center and history museum. Midpen plans to save one or two buildings and restore the Bear Creek Stables. Once this is accomplished, these areas will be open to the public, sometime between 2020 and 2025.

Midpen’s Layers of History is a great template for the future. In the meantime, our local open-space preserve is open. Walk through history in our very own Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve.

Directions. To get there, take Highway 17 to Bear Creek Road, across from Lexington Reservoir. From the south, turn right off the highway, and right to cross over the overpass. From the stop sign, continue straight for one mile on Bear Creek Road. The fifty-car parking lot is on the left. Parking is free, but you’ll need a permit from Midpen for equestrian parking. (GPS may not help you. The parking lot is new.)