A Tour of San Jose’s “Urban Reserve” and 3 County Parks

This is one of my Stayventures that I did leading up to my surgery, on June 6.

The City of San Jose is large, with a population of a bit over a million, but it is huge geographically, with a land area of 180 square miles. Fortunately that has not all been built on. Today I took a tour of part of San Jose’s Urban reserve.

Heading North on Monterey road. The Northern city limits of Morgan Hill is just past this road (Burnett ave):

Just a little further north, I’ve switched over to a nice rural road (Dougherty Ave). We are now inside the city limits of San Jose:

There is mostly farmland and very little development for several miles north. This is the greenbelt between San Jose and Morgan Hill. It is little changed since we first moved to Morgan Hill in 1984. It is called the Coyote Valley, and is considered “urban reserve” by San Jose.

Another nice part of Coyote Valley:

Several miles further north after Dougherty ends, now on Santa Teresa Boulevard but still in the Coyote Valley urban reserve. The rural part ends when Santa Teresa Boulevard goes through that little pass up ahead and continues on into San Jose’s urban sprawl:

Looking back towards Morgan Hill from the hill at the northern end of Coyote Valley. The valley extends pretty much as far as the eye can see to the south end several miles across east to west between the eastern and western foothills.

After a few miles of back roads through neighborhoods in South San Jose, I came around the corner at the northern end of the Santa Teresa hills, which separate South San Jose neighborhoods from the Almaden valley, which has also filled up with urban sprawl. There is a nice city park at Almaden Lake there:

Heading south from that park is the Los Alamitos creek trail, which extends for several miles up through the Almaden valley. There is a lot of suburbia all around but you go through it surrounded by nature:

This trail has special meaning for me. In 2001 I’d just been diagnosed with arthritis in my hip and knew running was no longer a good idea. I hadn’t found any equally enjoyable activity to replace it and was a bit depressed about it. I ended up going for a nice walk on this trail and got a peaceful “runner’s high” type feeling. I knew at that moment things would be all right and I’d find other things, like walking in nice settings, that would give me the kind of good feelings running had. I ended up with tears in my eyes, so I must have been more discouraged than I realized up till then.

The Los Alamitos creek trail ends at Harry road. Turning right on Harry leads up to one of several entrances of the beautiful Almaden Quicksilver county park. There are many hiking and mountain biking trails in this part and a lot of nice scenery. There are also historical relics- this was the site of a large mercury (quicksilver) mine. It was at its heyday during the gold rush because mercury plays a role in gold extraction. There was a resurgence of interest in mining mercury during world war II, then small scale mining continued until 1970.

Going back about half a mile the other way on Harry road you run into this unpaved trail that leads through the farm and ranch lands to the South. It extends all the way down to the western entrance to Santa Teresa Park. I rode it down there and was planning on taking the Fortini trail up into Santa Teresa park and then head back down to Santa Teresa boulevard to return home:

But I decided the Fortini trail was a little too rocky for a guy that’s a week a way from surgery so I instead took the paved Fortini road back to the main road south, McKean road. This is still in the city limits of San Jose, in a different urban reserve. This is another beautiful rural area with little development since we moved here in 1984.

Fortini runs into Mckean right at the Rancho San Vicenze entrance to another county park, Calero:

Here is a map putting this all in perspective. Note how close the 3 county parks are together. You can continue for miles on trails in the adjacent Open Spaces. For example, the Mt Umunhum trail I described recently is in Sierra Azul Open Space.

It’s kind of miraculous how little the McKean area and the Coyote valley have been developed, unlike various other areas in the city limits. San Jose saw explosive growth and sprawl between 1950 and 1980. In 1950 the population of 95,280 and the area was only 17 square miles. Under city manager A.P. (“Dutch”) Hamann an aggressive program of expansion and annexation occurred, by the time he left office in 1969 the population was 495,000 and the area 136 square miles. Anti-growth sentiment started to kick in at this time, and the mayor and city council were committed to responsible growth by about 1980. Another big factor was that, by now, San Jose along with other sprawling cities was realizing that spreading willy-nilly out into new residential areas is not economically sustainable- the residential property tax base is not enough to cover the expense of the required services. San Jose’s general plan now reflects that, with a policy of maintaining an urban growth boundary. Areas like the Coyote valley will not be opened up to development unless there is sufficient industrial tax base to go along with any proposed residential development. The most recent time this almost happened was when Cisco proposed locating a large facility in Coyote Valley, but that fell through after the “dotcom bust” in 2001. Even those plans were heartening as it was clear that, if Coyote valley were developed, San Jose intended to keep a substantial greenbelt at the southern end, and there were plans for another linear park on the western side of the valley akin to the existing Coyote valley path that runs on its eastern side.

Another equally significant miracle that has occurred is how much open space has been preserved throughout the bay area in parks and open space preserves. That would not have happened without concerted efforts from private citizens, nonprofits agencies, and local governments. I am grateful to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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