Grizzly Flat: Why so much Open Space?

The hills right before the Jikoji Zen Center and the former home of the alternative Pacific High School.

The hills right before the Jikoji Zen Center and the former home of the alternative Pacific High School. Photo © Mobile Ranger.

Gateway to a Huge Greenbelt

The Grizzly Flat Trailhead area proves this point even more. It has an entrance to the Upper Stevens Creek (Santa Clara) County Park where trails connect to the Montebello Open Space Preserve to the north and the Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve to the south. On the west side of Skyline Boulevard is an entrance to the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve which is close to the point where three counties of San Mateo, Santa Cruz, and Santa Clara converge.

The entrance area to the Stevens Creek Open Space Preserve.

The entrance area to the Stevens Creek Open Space Preserve. Photo © Mobile Ranger.

Grizzly Flat itself is located about a mile east of the trailhead near the headwaters of Stevens Creek. The creek is named in honor of Elisha Stephens — despite the difference in spelling. Stephens was the captain of the first successful wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada over Donner Pass in 1844. He settled down on a farm lower down on the creek in what is now Cupertino. He is said to have entertained a succession of visitors whom he enjoyed feeding such local delicacies as rattlesnakes and frogs.

Elisha Stephens 1804 - 1887 led a wagon train over Donner Pass in 1884 and settled what is now Stevens creek in Cupertino. Photo courtesy of Janet Schwind

Elisha Stephens. Photo from the collection of Janet Schwind.

On the west side of Skyline Boulevard is an entrance to the Long Ridge Open Space Preserve and its network of trails. A short distance down this trail will take you to picturesque Peters Creek, a cool haven in the summer heat.

Grizzly Bears

According to local lore, Grizzly Flat was named in honor of a bear whose scratches were noted on a bay tree near the creek.The grizzly bear was both feared and revered by the indigenous tribes who inhabited the area, but they presented a special problem to the Spanish and Mexican settlers. In the late 18th Century grizzly bears thrived in the Santa Cruz Mountains, feeding on the rancheros’ plentiful herds of cattle. Extensive hunting by European settlers eventually wiped out the population in California.

Why the Open Space is Here

Welcome to Palo Alto. Elevation 58 feet? Not right here. Photo © Janet Schwind.

Welcome to Palo Alto. Elevation 58 feet? Not right here. Photo © Janet Schwind.

There is a sign at the south end of the parking area welcoming you to the City of Palo Alto with a population of 57,000 people and an elevation of 58 feet. Uhm, where are all those people, and the elevation right here is actually 2300 feet?

In 1959, the city of Palo Alto, annexed the western foothills. The idea was to provide more residences for the people employed in the city’s burgeoning industries. The city then hired a planning firm from Los Angeles (groan) to make recommendations for the “development” of the foothills. The planners did just that, and in 1961 came up with four scenarios, all of which would have radically changed the character of the area.

The entrance to OPEN SPACE PRESERVE X??

Long Ridge Open Space Preserve. Photo © Mobile Ranger.

In the view of this area, Grizzly Flat a dam forms a recreational lake which reaches upstream almost a mile. Up on the meadows of Montebello Ridge, the residents of high rise townhouses enjoy their view of the entire San Francisco Bay Area. This was the proposal that called for most intense development, but all of the alternatives submitted by this planner would have transformed the foothills into suburbia.

Conservationists Spawn Open Space District

A backlash to this plan helped spawn the conservation movement in Palo Alto. Another firm was hired to plan for the “development” of the foothills. The new study reflected the mood of the citizenry, as well as the city’s economics, when it concluded that it would be less expensive to purchase the land outright than to develop it (Residential development in remote, difficult terrain does not generate sufficient tax revenue to cover necessary city services, in contrast to downtown industrial areas. With this conclusion, the environmental and fiscal conservatives were on the same page. The solution of the conservationists was to form the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MidPen) in 1972. The district now owns much of this foothill land and surrounding open space up and down the San Francisco Peninsula.

Alternative Education on the Ridge

Along Skyline Boulevard is the Jikoji Zen Center. This property was home to the experimental Pacific High School founded in 1961 by a group of parents on the San Francisco peninsula whose teenagers were languishing in public school. It was based on the ideals of freedom, democracy, love of learning, compassion, and social accountability.

Read the rest of the story here at MobileRanger.com to find out why Pacific High School is no longer.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of a tour all about South Skyline Boulevard by The Skyline Historical Society. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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Julia Gaudinski


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