Less water, more hiking
Lexington Reservoir County Park
While the drought has shrunk Lexington Reservoir to a puddle, it has made walking easier. You can explore the bottom of the reservoir to where the towns of Alma and Lexington once stood. Usually under 130 feet of water, a little bridge built in 1932 has been revealed. It resurfaced in 2008 when the Santa Clara Valley Water District lowered water levels to build new outlet pipes. It will disappear again when the rains return. You can see the old bridge from Old Santa Cruz Highway next to the new bridge around the curve from Lexington School.
Although Lexington Reservoir can hold 19,000-acre feet of water, it is now filled to less than 20 percent of capacity. Water is flowing out of the reservoir at a rate of twelve cubic feet per second. The district estimates that by the end of October, the water level will be lower than the release outlet. This means that the 24 miles of Los Gatos Creek will go dry until it rains.
The original outlet tunnel was under the dam, but in 2007, a 2,000-foot-long horseshoe-shaped tunnel was built that housed a new pipe that quadrupled discharge capacity to 410 cubic feet per second.
The lower water level allows you to walk on both sides of the Lenihan Dam. This earthen dam is 195 feet high and 1,000 feet thick. According to water district officials; this dam with a core of clay is much safer than one of concrete.
Although swimming is prohibited, and boating is limited due to low water levels, fishing, hiking, and picnicking are popular. Follow the Alma Bridge Road across the dam to the designated parking area to visit the dam, boat-launch area, or access the Jones Trail, Saint Joseph’s Hill open space, or Sierra Azul open space via Limekiln Trail. Parking costs $6. Portable toilets and picnic tables are available next to the parking area.
On the east side of the reservoir, you can park at Banjo Point near the trailhead to Priest Rock Trail. This trail and Limekiln trail form a nice hiking loop. Continuing on Limekiln Trail takes you to Sierra Azul, Kennedy Road, and Almaden Quicksilver County Park. You also can drive or walk about 1.3 miles around the reservoir to the Miller Point day-use area, a popular place for fishing access.
Other hikers and fishermen may choose a non-official dirt parking area alongside the Old Santa Cruz Highway next to Highway 17. There are several trails running north and east of the parking area. Some go down to the water; others offer nice views.
Although the area west of Highway 17 between Black and Montevina roads is officially closed to the public, several trails take you down to the valley floor. When filled with water, it is a lovely view. Now, it shows the dry, cracked earth of drought.
Future park enhancements are planned, but the extreme variations in water level challenge development.