In an effort to preserve picturesque cattle grazing grounds, commemorate times past and enhance recreational opportunities, a new section of the bucolic La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve is now open to the public for the first time.

Starting Friday, Dec. 1, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is welcoming visitors to a 2,100-acre lower section of the nearly 6,100-acre preserve along the hillside overlooking the coast. Only a smaller northern portion of the site is currently open to the public so long as they request a permit in advance.

Now, a new 6-mile trail, parking lot and free access from dawn to dusk will be offered to hikers and equestrians, said district spokeswoman Cydney Bieber. The Lower La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve will also mark Midpen’s second area that blends cattle grazing alongside recreation. The move continues long-standing ranching traditions on the coastside that support management of healthy grasslands, she explained.

“We’re becoming increasingly distant from where our food comes from and the historic use of the land. This land had been used for generations and generations for ranching. This is an opportunity to see what that looks like,” Bieber said.

Midpen’s $1.2 million project included creating a new 22-space parking lot where the trailhead meets at Sears Ranch Road. The six-mile trail stretches through forests, creeks and ranchlands with panoramic views. Preparing the site included installing informative panels, preserving habitat and restoring a pond, she explained.

The expansive hillside is home to the threatened California red-legged frog and potential habitat for the endangered San Francisco garter snake. Part of the site also encompasses the San Gregorio watershed and Midpen will be able to help preserve clean water for that coastal area, Bieber said.

Hikers can park off Sears Ranch Road and meander along the trail that is primarily out and back. A small section known as the Folger Ranch Trail creates a loop at the end of the path but will close seasonally due to weather. Equestrians can apply for a free permit to park at a different lot before taking a 1.2-mile trail into the preserve to meet up with the main Harrington Creek Trail, Bieber said.

The work was supported by Measure AA, a $300 million general obligation bond approved by voters in June 2014. The measure levies a property tax on those in the special district’s territory, which includes 17 cites in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

With development pressures abounding, the ability to preserve 2,100 acres of open space is a unique opportunity. The achievement was celebrated Thursday with a ribbon cutting ceremony leading up to Friday’s opening of the largest section of the preserve for the public to enjoy.

The vast grassy hillside is grazed by a local rancher who received a contract with Midpen in 2014 to move his cattle along the property. Midpen acquired the site in 2006 for $9 million from the Peninsula Open Space Trust, she said.

While the cattle aren’t expected to be interested in visitors, Midpen is encouraging the public to appreciate them from a distance and hikers must remain on the trail. The site was once managed by the Driscoll family for generations and used for cattle grazing, Bieber said.

“Our goal, especially with lands in the coastal areas, is to make sure we’re able to maintain historic usage of them, which is why this preserve will have active cattle grazing,” Bieber said. “That’s really important to us to maintain those agricultural uses that have been used in the past.”

In 2012, Midpen approved a 30-year master plan for the La Honda preserve and is striving to make improvements to open more of the entire coastal property to the public. As studies show spending time in nature has immense benefits for a person’s well-being, Bieber said preserving lands for recreation is vital to the community and the planet.

“These open space lands are the life support system of the planet. They provide clean air, they provide clean water, they provide a place for people to get away from their hectic lives and convene with nature,” she said. “Our preserves are one of the places in the Bay Area where people can do that, they can get away, they can experience the land around them and how it used to be used for many years.”

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Twitter: @samantha_weigel

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(1) comment


One of the best things about the Bay Area is the easy access to beautiful natural areas protected as parks and open space.

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