Vindication 34 years later

On a beautiful spring day in 1981 I was out riding my bike around McKenzie Reservoir (also called Lake Ranch Reservoir) with John McDonnell when we came upon some motorcycle sheriffs ticketing kids for fishing in the lake. Of course, we had to wait for our trespassing tickets as well.

Today I rode there and didn’t break any laws as I joined dozens of other cyclists and hikers to enjoy John Nicholas Trail, which wraps around the lake starting at Black Road and heads up to Skyline Boulevard.

My trespassing ticket from 1981. I'm sure the cops had fun riding their dirt bikes.

My trespassing ticket from 1981. I’m sure the cops had fun riding their dirt bikes.

Back when I was riding, the San Jose Water Company didn’t take kindly to renegade cyclists traipsing across their land, even though Jobst Brandt and friends had been doing so for years undetected. I wrote a letter to the judge and my ticket was dismissed for “good cause appearing.” That same year through a land deal, the reservoir became part of Sanborn County Park, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

The reservoir, built between 1875-79 and named after the water company’s founder Donald McKenzie, remained off limits to cyclists until 2014. It took a lot of effort on the part of cyclists to reassure the county parks department that everything would be all right. Master plan

John Nicholas Trail amazes
Thanks to some forward-thinking parks people working for Santa Clara County, they went one step further and not only opened the road around the reservoir, but teamed with local bike groups (SVMTB) to build a magnificent trail linking Skyline Trail and now part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

The four-mile trail climbs steadily but not too steeply from the lake, with many switchbacks to keep the grade fairly constant. There’s one breathtaking view of Santa Clara Valley that adds to the enjoyment of a well designed multi-use trail.

John Nicholas Trail overview.

John Nicholas Trail overview.

When I rode downhill today I saw dozens of cyclists going up and down and just as many hikers, everyone on their best behavior. The key here is multi-use. When the expectation is set that you’ll see all types of users, people watch out for other trail users. Equestrians can also use the trail, but with the crush of other trail users here on the weekend, it’s probably more realistic to ride here on a week day. Still, it can be done.

Alpine Road depression
Compare this “Kumbaya” moment to what I experienced the same day on Alpine Road, the poster child for agency neglect in San Mateo County. As I rode uphill, eight of nine riders coming down were time-trialing. Having already been hit head-on once and knocked unconscious by a downhill rider, I made it known they were out of line.

I lay the blame on MROSD and San Mateo County for dropping the ball and allowing the road to become a downhill free-for-all. This road was at one time a beautiful route from Palo Alto to Page Mill Road. It’s present condition is so depressing it’s hard to think about it.

Some agencies better than others
After following local trail developments for more than three decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that some agencies are better than others. I rank Santa Clara County parks highly, with San Mateo County and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) lagging behind, but still well ahead of the regional water departments. I would characterize the local California state parks as benign. Not good, but not bad.

It all comes down to a mindset. Santa Clara County officials seem to genuinely care about letting people use our parks and they go out of their way to accommodate all users. San Mateo County, in my opinion, is much less accommodating. While it’s not the only reason, there’s a strong contingent of equestrians who put up roadblocks at every opportunity against multi-use trails.

MROSD is another story. Their issue is that their charter was dedicated to purchasing land for open space and they have done great work in fulfilling that mission. However, because that was their primary focus, public access has lagged. Had the agency’s bond measure not passed in 2014, they would have been facing insolvency, so it’s no wonder they spend as little as possible on public access.

MROSD made a concerted effort to be all-inclusive in their recent vision process, but in my opinion they need to re-think how they work as an agency. They should stick to what they do best — buy land for open space — and let other agencies with more experience handle the rest. In other words, they should turn over acquired land to state, county or city agencies for public access and enforcement. That’s how other land preservationists like Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), Sempervirens Fund, Save the Redwoods, etc., operate and there’s no reason why MROSD can’t do the same.

Riding my Colnago the day of the arrest at McKenzie Reservoir.

Riding my Colnago the day of the arrest at McKenzie Reservoir.

3 Responses to “Vindication 34 years later”

  1. Djani Drocić Says:

    I must admit that I really enjoy reading your posts and discovering all of the hidden trails and roads in South Bay. I love cycling, but I also love ridding bike outside all of the urban chaos, since during the week I get plenty of that during my work commute, and since I’m not native to San Jose (I’m a refugee from Bosnia & Hercegovina and I have been calling San Jose home for past 19 years), it is hard to locate good source of local knowledge that can provide additional ideas for weekend rides.
    Please keep up the great work,
    Djani “DJ” Drocić

  2. Bern Smith Says:

    Glad to see your writeup of the John Nicholas Trail. That project has been a long time coming…there are trail survey flags on that mountainside dating back over 30 years at least…
    Please save the date: March 28, 2015 – that’s when we will officially dedicate the Nicholas Trail, and re-dedicate the adjacent Skyline Trail. These 2 trails are the first in Sanborn Park to be opened for full multiple-use access (per the 2008 Trails Master Plan). The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council assisted County Parks to draft the plan, and to build the new trail.
    The trail is named in memory of John Nicholas, a founder of West Valley College’s Park Management Program, and mentor to hundreds of park professionals around the nation.

    Bern Smith
    Bay Area Ridge Trail Council South Bay Trail Director
    WVC Class of ’93

  3. Mike Buncic Says:

    Hmmm thats an interesting concept, i wonder what the legal issues would be of one public agency transferring to another. To me midpen simply seems overwhelmed at times. They have created great expectations to the point they are simply unable to follow through on because of the shear size of past accomplishments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: