Gaining the Water Shed High Ground

Critical Ridge Trail Gaps in SF Water Shed Slowly Opening

In 2016 the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which owns the wildlife refuge surrounding the San Andreas and Crystal Springs reservoirs was called upon by three San Francisco Greater Mission Supervisors, John Avalos, David Campos and Scott Weiner to stick to its original plan to open up the Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail, a spectacular 10-mile route that is now available only for docent-led tours, to a permit system by the end of 2016. The matter was tabled pending promised further review by the SFPUC commissioners and staff.

“To have this regional treasure right in the heart of our metropolitan area, and for people not to have access to it, doesn’t make any sense to me. We want to continue the momentum to open up the watershed.” Supervisor Scott Weiner March 2016

The SF Board of Supervisors has no authority to issue orders to the SFPUC Commissioners beyond initial approval of the appointment by the SF Mayor. These “trails", dirt roads actually, are currently used by SFPUC trucks on a daily basis. As has been often pointed out, these existing historical gravel roads and trails known as Fifield-Cahill Ridge, Pilarcitos Road, Whiting Ridge, Old Cañada, could easily be designated as a trail system, much as is done in the Marin County and Santa Clara County Watersheds.

Indeed for most of the 1920s the Mission Merchants Association held an annual picnic memorialized on the grounds annually in a 48" x 12" photo but most San Franciscans have never gotten much further than the view from Highway 280, and perhaps the very popular but disconnected, Crystal Springs Regional Trail used by 325,000 hikers per year. It is clear the SFPUC must continue to be pressured by new elected officials to close the gaps in this trail as well follow through on exciting plans to close the largest gap in the Bay Area Ridge Trail and allow meaningful access to these trails. that will extend from San Bruno to Woodside. You see the SFPUC's locally based water department believes part of their mission is to protect the water shed from being loved to death by recreational use and fears the obligation of enforcement to maintain any"environmental restrictions within our fragile ecosystem" beyond almost total prohibition. Addressing the 80 years of stonewalling the call to reopen public access to the 23,000-acre San Francisco Peninsula Watershed lands has been frustrating lesson for many outdoors enthusiasts who find a stubborn bureaucracy who believe correctly they can outlast elected officials reflecting constituent views.

Enter the Ridge Trail

In 2014, the Bay Area Ridge Trail dedicated a one mile segment that passes through the Skylawn Cemetery at the far south of the Portola Discovery site off just off the main Peninsula to Half Moon Bay access Highway CA 92 in San Mateo. This event, which also represented the 25th year of the Ridge Trail, helped to better focus public attention on how highly restricted SFPUC watershed guardians kept access to one of the most magnificent portions of the 550 mile ridge trail. Thier bike/horse accessible ridge trail, offering stunning vistas of both the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, is 10 miles long with toilets at 2-mile intervals before connecting to the penultimate spot on the Bay Trail where Gaspar Portola discovered the San Francisco Bay in 1769. It turns out access is granted to only a handful of users once per week via an advance reservation as January 2017. Still the ingredients for an excellent public adventure experience is obvious to all including the SFPUC staff who are proposing major upgrades coming hopefully sometime before the 250th anniversary of Portola's Bay Discovery in 2019.

"John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, opined: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Many Peninsula residents cherish his words and desire to be with nature after work or on the weekends, but time after time we find crowded trails with no parking nor public transportation access. By Gary Kremen September 2016

Perhaps because of this recent and continued increased focus on the big gap in the San Mateo County section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail located on watershed's ridge between Highway 92 and the GGNRA's Phegler Estate a major trail expansion is about to be proposed. This major shift favoring increased public access has the water agency considering a unified access and expanded system to the 10 mile Fifield-Cahill trail also allowing trail use access 7 days per week, so long as they register for a permit.

As of January 2017, citizens must navigate the SFPUC reservation system allowing access to a docent led small group of either hikers or bikers once per week to the 10 miles of trail between the Skyline Cemetery off Highway 92 and the Portola Discovery site known as the Fifield-Cahill Trail.

These plans are while subject to study and review call for implementation before 2018. The closing of the ridge trail gap means an all new southern trail extensio in San Mateo County. The final outcome is, of course, subject to a SFPUC water shed preference for delays but this new trail will fulfill the dreams of many nature lovers who want connected access to what could be a spectacular, a 6-mile ridge trail running from the intersection of Highway 92 and Skyline Boulevard to the GGNRA's Phleger Estate. There is trailhead parking showing for 60 vehicles as well.

While the EIR approval process may occur on January 18th 2017 the timelines are quite another matter, particularly if old patterns are allowed to continue. Among the key decisions outlined in the EIR are the degree and difficulty of public access. Mentioned in the EIR is a wide range of possibilities, from open public access along the fenced ridge trail to the current 1-3/week docent led tours to the most often mentioned annual trail pass which might require passing a test. Often overlooked in these hearings is the amount of fencing, the 1 to 1.75 miles average distance from the reservoirs the 16 miles of ridge trail is upslope from the Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir and San Andreas Reservoirs, as well as a long history of successful public access. This has not deterred the department from their preference for as little public access as possible. Follow the SFPUC including the 2018 projected completion date at:

"This land was taken away from us, the public, 80 years ago, by faceless, secretive bureaucracy. There is absolutely no justification for it to stay that way. Dozens of parks and hundreds of miles of trails in the area had proven beyond any doubt that the morose scare-mongering exhibited here has nothing to do with reality." 28SEP2016 Response to a Half Moon Bay Article by Lennie Roberts which makes the SFPUC case for highly restricted access

This SFPUC Water Shed Project involve trail improvements to a new multi-use trail segment extending approximately 6 miles south from the southern terminus of the Fifield/Cahill Ridge Trail (near the State Route 35/92intersection) to a Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Phleger Estate trail connection including the construction of two new trailhead parking areas for 10 and 50 vehicles.

The Notice of the Preparation of an EIR mentions a range of three options under consideration from:

  1. unrestricted access for the entire length of the Bay Area Ridge Trail (Ridge Trail) on the SFPUC Peninsula Watershed (approximately 16 miles),

  2. implementing an annual permit program (seven days a week),

  3. expanding the existing docent program to the extend south where the new trail will generally follow

The EIR also discloses the construction of a 0.5 mile ADA-compliant trail loop would be built for interpretive opportunities designed for disabled individuals. This trail would begin at the Cemetery Gate kiosk, and wind its way on a very gentle grade in a northeasterly direction through the Douglas fir forest. In addition the SFPUC would acquire Ridge Trail Council's trail easement from Skylawn Cemetery and record it as a perpetual easement to facilitate consistent and efficient management of the entire Ridge Trail on the SFPUC Peninsula Watershed.

Those hiking the full length of the Bay Area Ridge Trail would continue through the Phleger Estate into Huddart Park and then into Wunderlich Park in Woodside. After that, the trail heads back up toward Skyline and crosses into the El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve , and then into La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve. From there, the Bay Area Ridge Trail winds southward across Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Russian Hill Open Space Preserve, where it leaves San Mateo county. However, while the San Mateo County portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail has secured a route and public access the trail improvements are still a work in progress. Click the graphic to view the interactive map.

As of January 2017 the Bay Area Ridge Trail has been able to set aside 367 miles of its 550 miles in perpetuity for the citizens of the Bay Area to engage on a high level with nature. Linking places as with people creates a greater whole. Life is about the journey but we all need a chance to savor the view at the top. These SFPUC trail extensions would fill a large and critical gap in the Bay Area Ridge Trail largely following Skyline Boulevard from State Route 92 to the southern boundary of SFPUC property at the Phleger Estate property.


On the Trail of the Trail Trials The San Francisco Bay Area is often accused of being dysfunctional at regional planning but not in the slow steady category of trail creation. The Bay Area is fortunate to host mature but still growing regional trails. Check out the Ridge Bay, Delta [ There is also two noteworthy trails that pass through San Francisco Coast [ ]and DeAnza trails [ which extends from the SF Mission to Mexico and beyond. Whiting Ridge Trail or “Sweeny to the Sea Trail” For San Franciscans the closed ridge trail that would create the most benefit with the least effort is the Whiting Ridge Trail. The Whiting Ridge Trail is currently used as a service road by the SFPUC, but with some sustained political leadership this trail could connect the parks of Milagra Ridge, Sweeney Ridge, San Pedro County Park, McNee Ranch and Rancho Corral De Tierra. More at

California Coastal Trail Update

The California Coastal Act of 1976 reserved for the public all land below the mean high-tide mark, and required local jurisdictions to identify an alignment for a contiguous trail that would run from one end of the state to the other. A report from a recent 1200 mile trek shows much accomplished and much left to do including the first on line map. A Jan 1, 2017 article at ​

Speakeasy History The San Mateo County Coast enjoys a fascinating history thanks to its role meeting the edgy demands of visitors. by Esther Mobley 23MAR-2017

Tom Stienstra Suggests Hwy 35/Skyline Bike Trail Win Caltrans Survey for next Bike Trail 27MAR-2017 A new Caltrans SF Bay Area-wide survey for the new district-wide Bike Plan is expected to result in selection, adoption and construction of a specific project.

"On a personal level, one of the greatest road bike routes in California could be the 29 miles of road on Highway 35/Skyline from the junction of Highway 92 south to Castle Rock State Park on the south Peninsula." wrote Tom as he provided this link to his many readers.

Enjoy spectacular views of the Peninsula on one side, of Montara Mountain and beyond to the Pacific Ocean on the other, plus the historic San Francisco Bay Discovery Site. Stienstra Suggests How Easy to Create a New Skyline to the Sea Trail

10SEP-2017 "even better is to hike from the Skyline College [with easy weekend parking] trailhead to Sweeney Ridge, through the closed Portola Ridge Gate to Cahill Ridge, then up the now-closed service road to the Montara Mountain summit, and then down the other side to Montara State Beach. That’s right, a new Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail; all it would take is two gates unlocked."

San Francisco Beach Guide

Golden Gate National Park includes 26 beaches that are free and provide parking. These include gens like Baker Beach, China Beach, Fort Funston and for a great simple, memorable hike the Sutro Baths & Mile Rock Beach where you start from the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center at 680 Point Lobos Avenue CaliforniaBeaches.Com/best-beaches-san-francisco-ca/ Helpfully detailed with specific instructions to hundreds of otherwise unmarked beaches including maps and photos.

2017 California Beach Report Card "We are definitely improving — water quality is going up,” said James Alamillo, urban programs manager for Heal the Bay a Santa Monica based non-profit which has graded beaches in California annually for 27 years. While 97 percent of the 416 beaches statewide received A’s or B’s for pathogen and bacteria levels, Cowell and Capitola beaches, in Santa Cruz County, got an F and a D respectively, both among the worst 10 in California. Biggest improvement was GGNRA's Baker Beach joining the "B" group as reported by Peter Fimrite on June 15, 2017 at

Fires on SF Beaches is very Limited and Threatened

Continuing this long cherished tradition has been a struggle which has almost been shut down by the National Park Service several times. In the last go round in 2016 the Park Service agreed to expand the number of fire pits across from the Ocean Beach Beach Chalet Restaurant from 12 to 16 and require no permits for groups less of less than 25 as well as expand the no burn days.

Santa Cruz Beaches and Parks

Santa Cruz should be considered our 10th Bay Area County by virtue of containing so much of the Peninsula coast

From forest to sea, much to do in Santa Cruz County

By Tom Stienstra August 2017 | /parks-and-beaches/ | /ano-nuevo-state-park Santa Cruz Parks Friends have provided this excellent web guide that has no peer for San Mateo County

4JAN-2017 5,800-acre Coast Dairies made a national monument. One of President Obama's final acts was to recognize the great work done to preserve these lands for public use by designating the 5,800-acre Coast Dairies a national monument. These forests were home to Ohlone Indians known as the Cotoni for thousands of years, prompting the government alongside conservation groups to add them to the site’s official name, making it Cotoni-Coast Dairies. But with federal recognition comes an expectation: to welcome in the American public. That’s a challenge that neither the neighboring towns of Davenport and Bonny Doon nor the administrators at the U.S Bureau of Land Management are quite ready to take on.

18JAN-2017 By Tom Stienstra, Protecting Old Growth Redwoods in Santa Cruz Mountains The Save the Redwoods League has agreed to purchase a parcel near the Peters Creek old-growth forest and establish a conservation easement on Boulder Creek Forest, a total of 359 acres of redwood forests in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The problem is, they have to raise $2 million for a down payment on the $8 million total price by the end of 2017

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Historic Photo Essay

Editor's Note This is a supplement to our guides to the Historic Trails &Trails of Portola in 1769 and Anza in 1776 that led to the founding of the Bay Area in the Mission Distric​


Featured Posts