This could be our park.
Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space

Neil Wiley

Once every ten hikes or so, I walk into a place that is so special that it makes me laugh and cry at the same time, a place that lifts life to a new level. On a late October day that place was Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space.

Perhaps it was the excitement of a new park. Bear Creek Redwoods was only recently purchased by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. I had to telephone for a permit, trails were unmarked, and the visitors were few. I felt privileged to walk these trails.

Perhaps it was timing. The first cool, clear day of fall featured a bright sun and brisk breeze that made everything crisp and clean. And I enjoyed hiking solo for the first time in months. Walking with others has its rewards, but walking alone offered freedom, solitude, and a spirit of adventure. It also gave me time to take pictures, snack at frequent intervals, and sit whenever I wanted.

Perhaps it was the variety. Bear Creek offers a wonderful range of environments, from open meadows to oak and redwood forests. There is a lot to see—trails wandering by little waterfalls, creeks, and dams, then up hills to wide scenic views of the Lexington basin and the mountains beyond.

Perhaps it was the history. Here is a place with a colorful, varied past, with hunters and loggers, toll road builders, disappearing ghost towns, and luxurious estates, including a forty-room villa complete with a hundred-person staff, and a Roman plunge pool. Here were fantastic gardens featuring giant dahlias, lilies, roses, fuchsias, and nadina shrubs maintained by 43 gardeners.

Although the estates and gardens are gone, you can still see the remains of walkways, gazebos, walls, bridges, and alcoves. You can see the private carriageway built by James L. Flood leading from his estate to the town of Alma in order to bypass the dusty Dougherty Road (now Bear Creek Road). Ironically, while the estate and town have disappeared, the carriageway once known as Flood Road, now called Alma College Road, still exists.

James L. Flood’s father was reputed to be the wealthiest man in California. He paid his son’s girlfriend, a beautiful blond, blue-eyed burlesque queen, $25,000 to leave town. She did, but his son followed, and the couple married in Naples. Although she was never accepted by the family, father and son reconciled. Lucky for the son. He and his sister divided an estate valued at $18.5 million.

In 1934, the 270-acre estate, then owned by another millionaire, Harry Tevis, but still called "Alma Dale," was sold to the Sacred Heart Novitiate of Los Gatos and the Jesuit Order for $85,000, transforming a rich man’s playground into Alma College, a religious school. After the college relocated to Berkeley in 1969, the property was used by several schools. Some of the buildings still remain, but restoration could be expensive. Nevertheless, they could form the basis for an excellent visitor center/mountain history museum complex.

After Hong Kong Metro Realty purchased the property from the Novitiate of Los Gatos in 1989, Pietro Denevi attempted another transformation in 1994, but his planned "Los Gatos Country Club" was blocked by several environmental groups. Before the property could be saved for the public, however, upper sections were logged by Big Creek Lumber, creating large clear-cut areas, severe erosion, and hundreds of fallen and abandoned trees. Habitat was lost. Streams were polluted. And the loss of fire-resistant redwoods encouraged the growth of brush and grasses, increasing fire danger.

The logged areas have a melancholy beauty, like damaged children of the third world, but now they are protected by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The district’s mission is to acquire and preserve a regional greenbelt of open space land in perpetuity, protect and restore the natural environment, and provide opportunities for ecologically sensitive public enjoyment and education.

The Bear Creek locale has a special relationship with horsemen. Extensive stables developed during World War I have remained for more than 75 years through a succession of owners and lessees (Dr. Harry Tevis, Reginald Theobold, Lester and Helen Porter, Bob Trocha, and the current manager, Glenda Smith). Several owners were dedicated to the Tennessee Walking Horse. I remember seeing several "walker" shows there in the early seventies. The stable still boards 65 horses. (The stable is off-limits to hikers.)

But perhaps my primary reason for excitement is that this is our most accessible local parkland. The entrance is only nine-tenths of a mile up Bear Creek Road from Highway 17. Local equestrians, hikers, and history lovers could make this our park by participating in the development of the original master plan. Later, we locals could serve as docents, hiking guides, or trail security and maintenance crews. Or, we could simply enjoy this very, very special place.

If you are interested in being involved in master plan development, visit, email, or call 650-691-1200. To obtain a permit for hiking or trailering horses, call Kathleen Hart, 650-691-1200. For information about horse boarding, call Glenda Smith, 408-354-1787. To talk about forming a Bear Creek support group, call me at MNN, 408-353-1901.

Believe me. This could be our park.


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