New plan imagines the future of north coast redwoods
A slew of recent land acquisitions have naturalists all over the county eager to see the future of outdoor recreation along Santa Cruz County’s North Coast, including the future of the yet unopened San Vicente Redwoods park, just past the towns of Davenport and Bonny Doon.
San Vicente’s public access plan, which was prepared by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County and is open for comment through Oct. 10, provides an intriguing balance of trails for cyclists, equestrians, and hikers. But the rippling terrain and deep ravines won’t make for your average walk in the park à la Pogonip or Wilder Ranch.
“It’s very rugged and mountainous topography,” explains Land Trust conservation director Bryan Largay, who compares the terrain to upper Nisene Marks. “The elevation on the property ranges from 2,000 feet to around 600 with some steep canyons, ravines, and ridgelines.”
The plan is split into two phases spread out over an estimated 10-year period. The first three years or so will focus on 3.5 miles of multi-use trail, shared by equestrians, bikers, and hikers. The next seven years will focus on dedicated trails for those separate groups—one network for bikers and another for equestrians and hikers.
Supporters are also hoping for through-trails that would bring the park’s total trail network up to 38 miles and allow people to walk or ride all the way through the park, although that aspect isn’t yet a sure thing.
The plan has both the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz (MBOSC) and the Santa Cruz County Horseman’s Association taking an active role in managing and fundraising for the trails. The biking trails would be the kind of single-track riding that mountain bikers love.
“One of the things that’s incredible about this project is that it’s this long, epic ride through the forest,” MBOSC president Mark Davidson says. “Just the kinds of terrains you go through—these mountainous redwood forests, these sweeping ocean views. You can’t get that in other places.”
The property stretches from the ridges of Ben Lomond mountain to flatter coastal regions and nearly to the sea.
Five groups purchased the land for $30 million in 2011 from the CEMEX building company, which is headquartered in Mexico. CEMEX’s nearby former plant, located just off Highway 1, is still up for sale—the relic of California history having supplied materials for Candlestick Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the California Aqueduct.
The Land Trust and other conservation groups announced last June that the park would be renamed after the old town of San Vicente—now known as Davenport. The 8,500-acre San Vicente Redwoods property is a missing link that would create an area larger than San Francisco of nearly contiguous park land along with Wilder Ranch, Henry Cowell Redwood State Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and the Coast Dairies property, where public access is currently being figured out and planned by California Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Santa Cruz County officials.
Supporters of recreation in San Vicente are watching the adjacent Coast Dairies property very closely. That’s because the proposed through-trails would, in theory, run from the parking lot at the north end of San Vicente to a possible southern entrance on the border of Coast Dairies, which borders the Pacific Ocean on its other side. It would be a trek similar to the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail in Big Basin. But without public access to those parts of Coast Dairies, there would be no southern entrances to San Vicente and no through-trails.
It’s a process lots of stakeholders have taken an interest in.
“We’ve been working with the BLM and making sure they understand how important that is,” Davidson says of the connection to the Coast Dairies property. “The fact that these properties are coming on at the same time has harmonized the discussions of public access, and they have been working together very closely.”
Over 100 people—both neighbors and recreation lovers—packed a meeting room at Hotel Paradox last week for a discussion about the plan to ask questions and offer input. People had concerns about bathroom locations and fire safety, considering the possible influx of campers. The Bonny Doon area has already suffered two fires in the past five years.
The new plan could also have implications for the nearby town of Davenport, which lost dozens of union jobs when the CEMEX plant closed. New public lands could make for new positions with people needed maintain the parks—plus increased visitors to local stores and restaurants. Still, neighbors from Davenport have expressed concerns about what impact tourists might have on their quiet country roads—a key reason the Land Trust is planning entrances farther from the town.
The Peninsula Open Space Trust and Sempervirens of Los Altos currently share ownership of the San Vicente property, although it’s unclear who the owner will be in the future. There will be some logging, but a conservation easement from the Save the Redwoods League will protect most of the forest—no matter who the next owner is.
While the details have yet to be worked out, the plan provides opportunities that Davidson and others find exciting. “It’s about sustainable recreation and ecotourism, and you get to see these beautiful parts of the county,” says Davidson, who toured the property on a special ride when the property was owned by CEMEX. “I think that remoteness is something missing from the county. You have that a little bit [in other parks], but when you get to the top, you can see houses.”
For more information on the public access plan, visit www.landtrustsantacruz.org.