Invasive thistles and bullfrogs, endangered snakes, a contaminated landfill site and a mire of regulations were several of the obstacles that were overcome before the new 2.2-mile segment of the Mindego Hill trail opened to the public on March 30. The trail is near the Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve, off of Alpine Road, west of Skyline Boulevard.
As a dozen pairs of scissors sliced a ribbon, it became apparent that the trail's opening was due to the work of many agencies and individuals. Events that led to the opening provide a glimpse into how complicated management of public open space can be.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) acquired the 1,047-acre Mindego Ranch property near La Honda in 2006 from the True family, which had owned the property since 1954, according to the district website. By campaigning for private funds and leveraging public funding, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District acquired the property from POST in 2008.
The district was tasked with satisfying a wide range of interests, according to Steve Abbors, the district's general manager. These included honoring the True family's wishes that the land allow grazing and food production; offering public access to the land; protecting the endangered San Francisco garter snake; and protecting the water supply of residents downhill in La Honda from pesticide and animal contaminants.
The land was originally used by the Ohlone people, who hunted and gathered along the grasslands. Alpine Road follows a route formerly used by the Ohlone to travel through the Santa Cruz Mountains between the coast and the San Francisco Bay, according to Yoriko Kishimoto, the district's board president. Later, the land was homesteaded in 1859 by a man named Juan Mendico, the hill's namesake and an immigrant of Basque descent, who raised cattle.
By the time the district acquired it in 2008, the land was in need of rehabilitation after it had been used for decades to raise rodeo cattle.Parts of the property were considered to be contaminated landfill, and the area was dominated by purple star thistles and bullfrogs, two invasive species. To permanently eliminate the thistles, small amounts of pesticides were needed, since removing them by hand would disturb too much dirt, Mr. Abbors said.
However, runoff from the hill feeds into the nearby water supply used by some La Honda residents, who feared contamination of their water by both pesticides and potential pathogens passed from cattle, such as cryptosporidium. Mr. Abbors said the district worked with the Cuesta La Honda Guild to establish best practices for preventing contamination from such sources.
Another complicating factor, he said, is that the property is home to the San Francisco garter snake, a federally recognized endangered species. Protections had to be taken, including blocking off a part of the property from the public with a fence and prohibiting bicyclists from using the trail. With clips of GoPro footage showing mountain bikers accidentally smushing snakes, the district decided that allowing bikes on the trail would be too much of a liability, Mr. Abbors said.
Pedestrians and equestrians are allowed, since people and horses generally know better than to step on snakes, said Amanda Kim, district communications officer.
From the Mindego Hill parking lot, which opened in 2014, people can now venture along the new 2.2-mile path that they will share with cattle as they make their way up to the summit of Mindego Hill. The top yields a panoramic view of the nearby open fields and hills. It feels a world apart from Silicon Valley not the least because cellphone service and Google Maps functionality drop off along the way.
"I'm sure we're going to enjoy it for decades and decades," San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley said at the trail's opening ceremony.
The trail may not be for everyone. Parts are uneven, due to hoofprints, and there may be some cow pies along the way. Park officials advise those who encounter cattle to keep a safe distance, keep pets on leash, and not get between a calf and its mother.
Ana Ruiz, the district's assistant general manager, said the trail is family-friendly, to a point. She'd take her 11-year-old on the trail, but might only do segments with her 3-year-old. There are several rest locations that make for good picnic spots, she said. At least two young children were observed along the trail during the trail opening, along with two nonagenarians: Helen Haydon, 90, and Betsy Clebsch, 91.
Both women are nearby residents who seemed excited to take in the new view of their homes across the green hills. Several of their colleagues and family members, who say they participated in a hiking club called the Wednesday Walkers, said they've explored nearly all of the existing trail networks, and were eager to tread the new path.
The district covers 60,000 acres in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.