Portola Valley: Open space district acquires 79 acres


Click on pictures to enlarge.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Already rich in open space, the town of Portola Valley is richer still with the gift Tuesday (Nov. 15) to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District of 79 acres of upland meadows and ridges just south of the intersection of Alpine and Portola roads and just east of the Sweet Springs hiking trail.

Go to this link to locate the property on a map.

The property also includes a summer mansion and related buildings. The Hawthorns, as the property has been known, was the home of the Woods family; Frederick N. Woods III, who died April 2008 at age 93, willed it to the open space district upon his death. The property will become part of the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, MROSD spokeswoman Leigh Ann Gessner told the Almanac in a telephone interview.

The property is valued at $11 million, comes with a $2 million endowment for maintenance and stewardship, and is the largest gift of open space from a private family in the district's 39 years, Ms. Gessner said. It is also the first gift that included an endowment, she said.

The property will remain closed to the public at least until the district goes through the public planning process, including public hearings and an analysis of access for the public and the opportunities for environmental conservation and historic preservation.

How long might all that take? "It's hard to say. There are lots of projects in the hopper," Ms. Gessner said. "It's not really something that we planned for."

Immediate steps include setting up patrols by district rangers, reducing wildfire risks and disking the ground along the perimeter, Ms. Gessner said.

As for animals of importance to the environmentally minded, Los Trancos Creek defines the eastern border of the property and is thought to be home to steelhead trout. Other native species of threatened or endangered status include the California red-legged frog and Bell's vireo, the peregrine falcon and the willow flycatcher, all birds.

Botanical species include the remains of an olive orchard, oaks, bay laurels and buckeyes as well as willow, alder and cottonwood trees near the creek, said Ms. Gessner, who has visited the property. "The cottonwood trees were releasing their floaty white stuff into the air. It was kind of surreal," she said. "There is a really wonderful view from the top."

"It is one of last remaining islands of open space in the residential area of Portola Valley," Ms. Gessner said, noting that it had the potential for 22 residences. The Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a private nonprofit land trust, arranged a conservation easement in 2005, which had the effect of curtailing some development rights.

The buildings, including the mansion, may be historic and date from the late 19th century, Ms. Gessner said, adding that the district will probably need a management partner with expertise in such matters.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by sad story
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Nov 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm

This is a fitting chapter to the Chowchilla kidnappings of 1976. The son of Mr. Woods who donated the property and two of his friends kidnapped a bus full of school children and buried them and their bus driver alive to get $5 million in ransom. Luckily the children and driver escaped after 16 hours. The ransom was never paid and the three young men who did this (Fred Woods II, Jim and Richard Schoenfeld) have been in prison ever since. What a sad story, and what a good ending for Portola Valley and the rest of people who enjoy open space to have access to this beautiful land. I drive by this property every day and have often wondered what would happen to it once Mr. Woods passed away. He did a good thing with I'm sure a broken heart.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve Toben
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Nov 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

This is an extraordinary gift to all who cherish open space. It is remarkable to contemplate that these 79 acres will remain undeveloped in perpetuity, held in public trust for the benefit of natural communities and anyone who seeks refuge from the stresses of modern life. I am also impressed by the provision of a maintenance and stewardship endowment, which recognizes the dynamic nature of this landscape and the obligation to manage it for fire prevention, the removal of invasive species, and impacts caused by visitors down the road. In short, this is a profoundly far-sighted legacy for us all.

Like this comment
Posted by Gary Nielsen
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Nov 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Another good thing happens to Portola Valley. The generosity of the Frederick Woods family gives the Town and the entire mid-peninsula another 79 acres of riperian creekside, forested hillsides, open meadows, and cultural features to be forever preserved. Although this gift appears to be a direct benefit to Portola Valley residents, we in town will want to share this open space, and gladly so, with all of our neighbors in the region when it becomes accessible.

Like this comment
Posted by Thank you to 'sad story', and to Mr. Woods
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Dear "sad story," I had no idea. Thank you for the beautiful writing. To goodness in us all............

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:07 am

I am not impressed............everything but violins for b.g. of this selfish need for open space to view while driving to country clubs for 18 holes.There is enough open space.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Wade
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:00 am

I ran the place for the Woods for 20 years. Its a beautiful place, from the barn owls in the old barn and house to the steel head trout in the creek. Took many a great photo at this historical place. Keep it beautiful.

Like this comment
Posted by bob
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm

R gordon did you think you were in line to inherit this property? Why the bitterness?

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Jernick
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Bless you Frederick Woods and Family for this incredible green peaceful gateway to our town. This vista naturally draws sigh of relief and just a good old country feeling in my soul. It says, "Your home."

Like this comment
Posted by sad story
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Nov 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Yeah R Gordon, why so mad? Would it be better for someone to develop it and hardly anyone get to use it (talk about selfish)--this is for anyone in the world to use--not just a select few. I for one don't belong to a country club. But I for one would love to be able to walk in this beautiful space with anyone else who would also choose that. Selfish? Just the exact opposite.

2 people like this
Posted by chad
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:52 am

Open up a Black Tail buck season

Like this comment
Posted by Appreciative
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I am so thankful that our children and our children's children will have open space left when they are grown! They will know the joy of hiking through pristine "wildnerness" and viewing wildlife that abounds in this area. My children already appreciate the privilege of having a community that values preserving open space. Most of the families who live in this area sacrifice luxuries (like "18 holes"?) to live here. Many give their time and energy to preserve what we have. I am honored to be part of this appreciative community. Thank you to the Woods and the others that helped facilitate this gift.

Like this comment
Posted by Geoff Paulsen
a resident of another community
on Nov 23, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Hooray for Fred Woods. I grew up across the street from the Woods property, and my Grandmother refused her husband's desire to develop our ranch, which as a result became Foothills Park. I had a very pleasant visit with Fred a few years before he died, after which he drove me around his property, offering me various old cars that were in stages of quite serious decay. That mound of mossy leaves? "That's a '48 fastback Cadillac; last of the flathead V-8's! You want it?" (I politely declined.)

As a former planner for the MROSD, my hope is that the District provide plenty of parking (after all, Mr. Woods kept well over 100 cars there) and that it preserve the unique history of the place. It was in the Woods family since at least the 1890's.

Like this comment
Posted by Matt Stoecker
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Nov 24, 2011 at 10:18 am

Many thanks to the Woods family and vision of Mr. Woods for leaving this beautiful piece of Portola Valley for the bobcats and deer that look out over the activity at PV's intersection. I always feared a couple new mansions being built there someday and really changing the feel of our central meeting place. I think it's a happy ending for the Woods legacy, not a sad one. Mr. Woods bought Studebaker trucks off of my grandpa in Palo Alto for years and was know to be a really nice man. His son's misguided actions in the kidnapping shouldn't take away from a happy story for Mr and Mrs. Woods. With gratitude.

Like this comment
Posted by SERF
a resident of another community
on Nov 25, 2011 at 8:16 am

I think the name of the area should be renamed WOODSTOWN or WOODS VALLEY....Portola Valley sounds kind of tacky.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave J.
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Aug 4, 2012 at 8:07 am

I was a LT/VV resident-woods kid back then when the kidnapping happened. I applaud the property being donated for open space. As a former Portola Valley resident, my take is it only enhances the community for our next generation.

If Marc Wade himself views and reads this - please understand this gentleman is a respectful man, a community activist and and historian of LTW/VV and his posts reflect as man who knows and cares about his community.
You go Marc! Gotta find you again bro! Post your email address for former PV residents to contact you!

1 person likes this
Posted by Mr. Patrony's Pony's neighbor
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Oct 20, 2014 at 2:26 am

I lived at 30 Kelly Ct. now Firethorn Way. I remember when Chowchilla happened there were a lot of helicopters buzzing about. My brother told me they were looking for the kidnappers and thought one of them might be hiding in the old red caboose on the hill next to the end of Kelly Ct. Of course I didn't believe him but found out later the property did belong to the parents of Fred Woods. I hope this gift will give people something better to remember the land and the family by.

Does anyone else remember the old red caboose?

4 people like this
Posted by J.Booth
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 1, 2015 at 9:38 pm

My mother worked for the Woods family. This started in the mid 60's. As kids we were always given permission to roam the property. I as I got older into my teens, I bought at least a half a dozen old cars from Fred Woods. And yes, he loved to drive around the property and show the old cars and try to sell them. I have many great memories of spending summer days exploring the property. Knowing Fred and his wife, and how gracious and down to earth they were, I totally see them donating the property. Rest in peace good people.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Don't be the last to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Downtown Palo Alto gets new Vietnamese eatery
By Elena Kadvany | 15 comments | 6,551 views

On Metaphor and Mortality
By Aldis Petriceks | 0 comments | 1,185 views

Premarital and Existing Couples: Marriage Rules: Yours, Mine, or Ours?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 967 views

Big Island Food Party!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 801 views

No sand toys, no problem
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 408 views