Coastside Land Trust volunteers prepare for a habitat restoration day at the Purissima Old Town Site south of Half Moon Bay.
The nonprofit Coastside Land Trust has inherited a piece of history and is inviting the public to join this weekend in restoring the old Purissima site back to a usable natural resource.
In January 2013, the California Coastal Conservancy donated about 7 acres at the site of a late 1800s mansion in the abandoned town of Purissima just south of Half Moon Bay, said CLT Project Coordinator Eric Rutledge. Unkempt for decades, the CLT is hosting the first of four habitat restoration workdays starting Saturday to clear vegetation and create a visitor destination at this historic ghost town, Rutledge said. And who knows — maybe uncover some coastal artifacts, Rutledge said.
“That’s part of the excitement around this property, is that the Coastside Land Trust has been awarded a property that rich in coastside history. And we’ll be able to restore the vegetation and make it comfortable for public use so people can first get outside and enjoy nature, but also learn about this piece of San Mateo coast history that’s really been lost for a few decades,” Rutledge said.
The small town of Purissima, established in the 1860s, was one of the earliest settlements along the coast and served as a tourist destination and rest stop for travelers. The small town near the Purissima Creek was surrounded by agricultural land and lumberyards and was a stop along the Ocean Shore Railroad. In its glory, it hosted a school, post office, hotel and the Henry Dobbel mansion.
But shortly after its development, the town of Purissima was badly flooded in 1862 and in the 1930s was formally deemed a ghost town.
It’s is now overrun with invasive vegetation but the CLT’s newly acquired property, known as the Old Town Site, was once the home of the 17-bedroom Dobbel mansion, Rutledge said. Dobbel paid just $10,000 to build the mansion but little is left to illustrate it was once there, Rutledge said.
“The best indication we have right now that any sort of structure was there is there’s actually some of the natural features. So there’s a row of Monterey Cyprus trees that indicate there was a home there, or possibly a road that was lined with cypress trees and other features are vinca … a type of ground cover ornamental plant, things that were intentionally planted. Those are the things that have survived throughout the century,” Rutledge said.
Most of the site is now covered by a few feet of vegetation and volunteers will help to remove invasive species such as vinca, cape ivy and English ivy. Poison oak is also present so volunteers will work with trained personnel. Eventually, after removing the invasive plants, volunteers will sow native seeds and wildflowers, Rutledge said.
The property is bordered south by the Purissima Creek, north of Verde Road, west of Highway 1 and east of the Purissima Cemetery, Rutledge said. Just as mysterious as what is below the brush, is the status of the cemetery. The conservancy donated the Old Town Site but the cemetery is technically owned by the Purissima Cemetery Association, of which no member can be located, Rutledge said.
As part of the CLT’s restoration of the Purissima site, picnic areas, benches and informative panels detailing the area’s history will be installed, Rutledge said.
It will also set up a fence and small four-car gravel parking lot. Restrooms will be available about a mile away near the South Cowell Purissima Trail head.
Once the site is complete, visitors are guaranteed to see various flora and fauna, such as birds of prey and songbirds, Rutledge said.
The CLT’s mission to preserve, protect and enhance open space resources along the San Mateo County coast parallels that of the state conservancy, Rutledge said. Along with the 7-acre site, the conservancy also donated $45,000 toward the Purissima restoration effort, Rutledge said.
But it will take a team of dedicated volunteers and likely at least four restoration workdays to peel back enough of the decades of overgrown vegetation to have the site user friendly, Rutledge said.
“We’re looking forward to working with the public first to restore the parcel and also to maintain it after it’s open to the public. And the Coastside Land Trust will continue to hold habitat workdays to maintain the property and maintain the natural and historical features that are important there,” Rutledge said.
The Purissima Old Town Site habitat restoration workday is 10 a.m. to noon July, 19. Volunteers are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes, long sleeves and sun protection. People can also bring a small 5-gallon bucket to carry weeds or use as a stool. Anyone under 18 years old must be accompanied by an adult, Rutledge said. For more information about the CLT and the Purissima restoration workday visit Coastsidelandtrust.org.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106