Discovering the Real California
Ulistac Natural Area
Neil Wiley

When over 68,000 football fans yell for their 49ers in the new Levi’s® Stadium, you’ll hear them roar just a few blocks away in the last open space in the City of Santa Clara. If all goes well, however, when the crowds leave, the nearby Ulistac Natural Area will remain a home for California native plants and wildlife. Its 41 acres of natural, undeveloped land along the Guadalupe River is a place where California native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers shelter butterflies, the birds nest and breed, and rabbits, foxes, and salamanders live. And while it recreates the natural environment of California before Silicon Valley, it gives us a place to walk, jog, bicycle, photograph, bird watch, see wildlife, and simply enjoy nature.

Although we love our 49ers, their stadium may endanger more than peace and quiet. The stadium management wants more parking, and they may absorb a nearby soccer park. In turn, the soccer teams are asking the City of Santa Clara for a big piece of Ulistac. Fortunately, the city council has received thousands of emails and letters in favor of saving this last natural area in Santa Clara.
It’s worth saving. Community volunteers have invested thousands of hours to plant, mulch, weed, water, and maintain tree seedlings and native plants. They have restored acres of oak savannah, live and deciduous oak woodlands, and grasslands. A bird and butterfly garden is already attracting hummingbirds, quail, and butterflies. Wetlands, coastal scrub, sycamore, and riparian woodlands are being restored.

This is a true community effort. Students and neighbors have replanted thousands of plants. Supporters include Applied Materials, Audubon Society, Boy Scouts of America, City of Santa Clara, Friends of Santa Clara Parks and Recreation, Interland Corporation, Mission City Community Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Nature Restoration Trust, People for Open Space in Santa Clara, PG&E, Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, Santa Clara School District, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Tzu Chi Foundation, Ulistac Natural Area Restoration and Education Project (UNAREP), Wilcox High School, and Wild Zone.

You can see Ulistac for yourself. It’s free. Walk or ride your bike into the preserve. Bring your dog on a leash. Park on the street, or cross over to Lick Mill Park for parking, restrooms, benches, pay areas, picnic facilities, and lawns. Interpretive signs and special events, such as Wildflower Day, enrich your experience.

Ulistac’s relatively smooth, flat paths meet all-access standards. Want more? Extend your explorations using one of two ramps up to the top of the Guadalupe River Levee. The eight-mile, raised-level trail extends from Alviso (Gold Street Bridge) to Highway 880 (San Jose airport). Plans call for connecting with the Los Gatos Trail and other trails throughout Santa Clara County. In some areas, trails run on both sides of the levee. You can cross over from one side to the other at bridge-access points.

Another way to enjoy Ulistac is to take a docent-led tour. It’s a great way for you and your children to learn more about California’s natural history, the Ohlone people, native plants, birds, and animals.

Marlene and I enjoyed such a tour led by Dennis Dowling, CEO of the Ulistac Natural Area Restoration and Education Project. Passionate and knowledgeable about the preservation of California’s natural history, he is a great teacher and storyteller.
To learn more about Ulistac docent-led walks, email Dennis Dowling at Future hikes may also be available via the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. For more information, call Teri Rogoway, coordinator of interpretive programs, 408-224-7476.

To visit Ulistac, take I-880 north to Montague Expressway West. Drive 2.8 miles, and turn right on Lick Mill Boulevard. Follow Lick Mill Boulevard about 1.1 miles. Ulistac is on the right side of the road.

Ulistac is a beautiful work in progress. It would be a shame if it is destroyed for a game.