A grassroots movement to preserve nature turns 50

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District now manages 65,000 acres across 26 preserves

Deer graze as the sun sets on the Bay Area RidgeTrail at the Russian Ridge Preserve. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

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A grassroots movement to preserve nature turns 50

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District now manages 65,000 acres across 26 preserves

Deer graze as the sun sets on the Bay Area RidgeTrail at the Russian Ridge Preserve. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

When you see the foothills, mountains and Baylands of the Peninsula, you may think about the hiking, biking or riding trails that wait to be explored. But behind much of the Peninsula's nature access is one predominant organization shaping that landscape: Midpen.

That's the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, the publicly funded open space district tasked with protecting and managing public access to more than 65,000 acres of undeveloped land spread out across 26 preserves — all but two of which are publicly accessible — from Half Moon Bay and Redwood City in the north to Los Gatos and San Jose in the south.

Midpen turns 50 this year, and its leaders are using the milestone to celebrate the district's achievements since it was officially created through a voter initiative on the November 1972 ballot. Measure R, an initiative called "Room To Breathe," passed "overwhelmingly" by 67.7%.

"I think that it can be easy to perhaps take these public open spaces for granted, but they are here because of a lot of foresight and hard work," said Leigh Ann Gessner, a district spokesperson.

A half-century of preservation

Midpen founder and former board member Nonette Hanko with Midpen's first general manager Herb Grench at Midpen's first purchase, Foothills Open Space Preserve in 1974. Courtesy Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

What would grow into Midpen first began in the late 1960s, when Palo Alto resident Nonette Hanko became involved with local government to raise concerns about how rapidly local open spaces were being developed. After an editorial in the Palo Alto Times by Jay Thorwaldson suggested adopting an approach the East Bay used to create a regional park district, Hanko began a grassroots campaign to pass the "Room to Breathe" initiative.

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In 1973, the Midpen board of directors hired its first general manager, Herb Grench. The following year, the agency bought its first piece of land, 90 acres that became the Foothills Open Space Preserve. It later purchased 760 acres that would become the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, and received its first land gift, 136 acres that would become part of the Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve.

Then, in November 1976, voters agreed to annex the southern portion of San Mateo County — Atherton, Redwood City, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Woodside, San Carlos and East Palo Alto — into the district. Around that time Grench proposed the creation of a separate nonprofit land trust to raise money and work with land owners to secure land purchases. That organization became the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), formed in 1977.

Ed Shelley, Herb Grench, Dick Bishop, Craig and Margo Britton, Nonette Hanko and Jim Bollend celebrate Midpen reaching 10,000 acres preserved in 1981 at Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. Courtesy Carolyn Caddes.

Over the years, the district continued to both purchase land and receive land as gifts. In 1980, Midpen bought the 537-acre Windy Hill property from POST, representing the first of many public-private partnerships developed between Midpen and POST.

By 1992, the agency had protected roughly 35,000 acres. It had added another 12,000 acres by 2002. It continued to expand its land holdings, creating the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve in 1999.

In 2004, Midpen expanded its boundaries to the San Mateo County coast, and has since protected more than additional 11,000 acres of natural and agricultural lands.

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Then, in 2014, voters approved Measure AA, providing a $300 million general obligation bond to the district to buy open space, expand access and improve existing preserves. Hanko retired in 2019 after serving on the district's board for 46 years.

Over the past several years, Midpen has also opened up the summit of Mount Umunhum and La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, adopted a climate action plan and wildland fire resiliency program, and developed a program to protect watersheds and provide grants to support conservation, education and access.

Nonette Hanko, founder of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, sits at the Monte Bello Preserve on Feb. 6, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Adapting to changing times

Over the past five decades, the district has not only acquired more lands, but invested more resources toward restoring the lands in its care, according to Gessner.

The district has three primary goals as part of its mission: to preserve land, restore it to its original function and promote its accessibility.

"It's a big part of the work we do that isn't as visible to the public as preserving the land and opening it up for public enjoyment," Gessner said.

Nearly all of the land that Midpen has acquired over the years is not what's considered "pristine wilderness," she said. The lands have been used by different groups in different ways over the centuries — they have been logged, made into motorcycle parks or been subjected to unnatural fire suppression tactics.

"We have challenges that are different today than 50 years ago," she said. "For example, climate change and wildifire were probably not as top of mind as they are for us today."

Open spaces that the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has preserved over the past 50 years are shown in dark green. Courtesy Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

This year, the district has a number of projects it's working on.

Midpen is in the middle of a redistricting process to draw new election boundaries for its seven seats, each of which represents a geographic area called a "ward." The district's board has already selected a preferred map for the new boundaries and is expected to consider approving it at its March 23 meeting. The proposed shifts push the boundary of Ward 6 northward, consolidates Wards 2 and 5 into shapes that are less intertwined and pushes the proposed Ward 3 boundaries farther south.

Access an interactive map at openspace.org showing the current boundaries compared to the proposed ones for more details, or to do an address-based search.

Midpen is also stepping up its approach to wildland fire management, and is working to manage vegetation at several preserves, developing fuel breaks — gaps in vegetation designed to slow the spread of a fire — at the Skyline and Monte Bello preserve parking areas. The agency is also working to reduce fuels in Thornewood Preserve in Woodside.

In addition, staff are working to remove dead, broken and diseased tree limbs and a few bay laurel trees around the area of the Deer Hollow Farmhouse at Rancho San Antonio in Cupertino. Midpen recently created a fuel break at Pulgas Ridge and Coal Creek preserves.

Looking south towards the Santa Cruz Mountains at the Monte Bello Preserve on Feb. 6, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Midpen field staff are provided annual training as fire first responders, according to the district website.

The open space district is also in the middle of a pilot program to evaluate whether e-bikes should be allowed on trails where other bicycles are permitted at Rancho San Antonio Preserve and County Park and Ravenswood Preserve, and the results are expected to be reviewed by the district's Planning and Natural Resources Committee on March 8.

Celebrating Midpen

To celebrate the district's 50th year, district staff are planning a number of community programs, according to Gessner.

"We invite the public to join us in 2022 to celebrate how far we have come together as a community in realizing our vision, sharing stories from the last half-century of perseverance, and recognizing the contributions of people past, present and future," Ana María Ruiz, general manager at Midpen, said in a press statement.

Among the planned activities include a family-friendly festival set for April 30 at the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve along the Bay in East Palo Alto and a Coastside community celebration at Johnston Ranch near Half Moon Bay in the fall. Throughout the year, Midpen will also offer hikes and other activities led by docent naturalists, including a hike series aimed at visiting all 26 preserves.

People can also participate in the celebration through online and social media programs. MidPen is offering participants in a program called "Open Hearts" a commemorative gift if they share their stories and talk about what they like most about their favorite open space preserves. People are also invited to post photos at Midpen preserves and tag their post with the tag @MidpenOpenSpace and hashtag #SpottedAtMidpen. Each month, a winner will be chosen to receive a prize. The district also plans to host pop-up events at open spaces throughout the year, visiting a different preserve each month.

"The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has long been an important part of the fabric of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties' regional open space identities," said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley. "Congratulations on a half-century of success and I am sure Midpen will continue for centuries to come."

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Courtesy Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Kate Bradshaw
   
Kate Bradshaw reports food news and feature stories all over the Peninsula, from south of San Francisco to north of San José. Since she began working with Embarcadero Media in 2015, she's reported on everything from Menlo Park's City Hall politics to Mountain View's education system. She has won awards from the California News Publishers Association for her coverage of local government, elections and land use reporting. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

A grassroots movement to preserve nature turns 50

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District now manages 65,000 acres across 26 preserves

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 18, 2022, 6:45 am

When you see the foothills, mountains and Baylands of the Peninsula, you may think about the hiking, biking or riding trails that wait to be explored. But behind much of the Peninsula's nature access is one predominant organization shaping that landscape: Midpen.

That's the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, the publicly funded open space district tasked with protecting and managing public access to more than 65,000 acres of undeveloped land spread out across 26 preserves — all but two of which are publicly accessible — from Half Moon Bay and Redwood City in the north to Los Gatos and San Jose in the south.

Midpen turns 50 this year, and its leaders are using the milestone to celebrate the district's achievements since it was officially created through a voter initiative on the November 1972 ballot. Measure R, an initiative called "Room To Breathe," passed "overwhelmingly" by 67.7%.

"I think that it can be easy to perhaps take these public open spaces for granted, but they are here because of a lot of foresight and hard work," said Leigh Ann Gessner, a district spokesperson.

A half-century of preservation

What would grow into Midpen first began in the late 1960s, when Palo Alto resident Nonette Hanko became involved with local government to raise concerns about how rapidly local open spaces were being developed. After an editorial in the Palo Alto Times by Jay Thorwaldson suggested adopting an approach the East Bay used to create a regional park district, Hanko began a grassroots campaign to pass the "Room to Breathe" initiative.

In 1973, the Midpen board of directors hired its first general manager, Herb Grench. The following year, the agency bought its first piece of land, 90 acres that became the Foothills Open Space Preserve. It later purchased 760 acres that would become the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, and received its first land gift, 136 acres that would become part of the Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve.

Then, in November 1976, voters agreed to annex the southern portion of San Mateo County — Atherton, Redwood City, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Woodside, San Carlos and East Palo Alto — into the district. Around that time Grench proposed the creation of a separate nonprofit land trust to raise money and work with land owners to secure land purchases. That organization became the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), formed in 1977.

Over the years, the district continued to both purchase land and receive land as gifts. In 1980, Midpen bought the 537-acre Windy Hill property from POST, representing the first of many public-private partnerships developed between Midpen and POST.

By 1992, the agency had protected roughly 35,000 acres. It had added another 12,000 acres by 2002. It continued to expand its land holdings, creating the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve in 1999.

In 2004, Midpen expanded its boundaries to the San Mateo County coast, and has since protected more than additional 11,000 acres of natural and agricultural lands.

Then, in 2014, voters approved Measure AA, providing a $300 million general obligation bond to the district to buy open space, expand access and improve existing preserves. Hanko retired in 2019 after serving on the district's board for 46 years.

Over the past several years, Midpen has also opened up the summit of Mount Umunhum and La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, adopted a climate action plan and wildland fire resiliency program, and developed a program to protect watersheds and provide grants to support conservation, education and access.

Adapting to changing times

Over the past five decades, the district has not only acquired more lands, but invested more resources toward restoring the lands in its care, according to Gessner.

The district has three primary goals as part of its mission: to preserve land, restore it to its original function and promote its accessibility.

"It's a big part of the work we do that isn't as visible to the public as preserving the land and opening it up for public enjoyment," Gessner said.

Nearly all of the land that Midpen has acquired over the years is not what's considered "pristine wilderness," she said. The lands have been used by different groups in different ways over the centuries — they have been logged, made into motorcycle parks or been subjected to unnatural fire suppression tactics.

"We have challenges that are different today than 50 years ago," she said. "For example, climate change and wildifire were probably not as top of mind as they are for us today."

This year, the district has a number of projects it's working on.

Midpen is in the middle of a redistricting process to draw new election boundaries for its seven seats, each of which represents a geographic area called a "ward." The district's board has already selected a preferred map for the new boundaries and is expected to consider approving it at its March 23 meeting. The proposed shifts push the boundary of Ward 6 northward, consolidates Wards 2 and 5 into shapes that are less intertwined and pushes the proposed Ward 3 boundaries farther south.

Access an interactive map at openspace.org showing the current boundaries compared to the proposed ones for more details, or to do an address-based search.

Midpen is also stepping up its approach to wildland fire management, and is working to manage vegetation at several preserves, developing fuel breaks — gaps in vegetation designed to slow the spread of a fire — at the Skyline and Monte Bello preserve parking areas. The agency is also working to reduce fuels in Thornewood Preserve in Woodside.

In addition, staff are working to remove dead, broken and diseased tree limbs and a few bay laurel trees around the area of the Deer Hollow Farmhouse at Rancho San Antonio in Cupertino. Midpen recently created a fuel break at Pulgas Ridge and Coal Creek preserves.

Midpen field staff are provided annual training as fire first responders, according to the district website.

The open space district is also in the middle of a pilot program to evaluate whether e-bikes should be allowed on trails where other bicycles are permitted at Rancho San Antonio Preserve and County Park and Ravenswood Preserve, and the results are expected to be reviewed by the district's Planning and Natural Resources Committee on March 8.

Celebrating Midpen

To celebrate the district's 50th year, district staff are planning a number of community programs, according to Gessner.

"We invite the public to join us in 2022 to celebrate how far we have come together as a community in realizing our vision, sharing stories from the last half-century of perseverance, and recognizing the contributions of people past, present and future," Ana María Ruiz, general manager at Midpen, said in a press statement.

Among the planned activities include a family-friendly festival set for April 30 at the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve along the Bay in East Palo Alto and a Coastside community celebration at Johnston Ranch near Half Moon Bay in the fall. Throughout the year, Midpen will also offer hikes and other activities led by docent naturalists, including a hike series aimed at visiting all 26 preserves.

People can also participate in the celebration through online and social media programs. MidPen is offering participants in a program called "Open Hearts" a commemorative gift if they share their stories and talk about what they like most about their favorite open space preserves. People are also invited to post photos at Midpen preserves and tag their post with the tag @MidpenOpenSpace and hashtag #SpottedAtMidpen. Each month, a winner will be chosen to receive a prize. The district also plans to host pop-up events at open spaces throughout the year, visiting a different preserve each month.

"The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has long been an important part of the fabric of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties' regional open space identities," said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley. "Congratulations on a half-century of success and I am sure Midpen will continue for centuries to come."

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, a sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

sequoiadean
Registered user
Los Altos
on Feb 18, 2022 at 10:47 am
sequoiadean, Los Altos
Registered user
on Feb 18, 2022 at 10:47 am

Congratulations on 50 years of amazing work! The huge open spaces Mid Pen preserved, and continues to preserve, are a key reason why the Bay Area, and the Peninsula in particular, is such a wonderful place to live.


Local news junkie
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Feb 18, 2022 at 11:50 am
Local news junkie, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Feb 18, 2022 at 11:50 am

We need to protect our beautiful natural environment, and many thanks to MiidPen for being so key to those efforts!


Lynne Henderson
Registered user
Mountain View
on Feb 18, 2022 at 2:48 pm
Lynne Henderson, Mountain View
Registered user
on Feb 18, 2022 at 2:48 pm

And a shout out to my friend, Del Woods, who worked so hard for MPROSD and was in charge for a number of years! (Sorry if I don't have the alphabet soup right--I am just so grateful for him, the District, POST, and Trust for Public Land, for which my cousin worked for many years)


Jane
Registered user
Ventura
on Feb 22, 2022 at 10:48 pm
Jane, Ventura
Registered user
on Feb 22, 2022 at 10:48 pm

Our open spaces are extraordinary. Thank you to MPROSD.


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