backlit hikers at sunset

Open Stories

Monte Bello Preserve (Karl Gohl)

In honor of our 50th Anniversary, and to help tell the story of 50 years of open space protection, restoration and enjoyment, we are delighted to bring you this series we’re calling Open Stories, a collection of conversations about the many ways to connect with nature and your public open space.

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Open Stories - Laura Sears

Born and raised in rural Kentucky, Laura Sears graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Geology in 1999. She was a high school special education teacher for two years before moving to California in 2001 and co-founding Vida Verde, a non-profit organization promoting educational equity by providing free, overnight environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity,with her husband Shawn.

Laura sees the work Vida Verde does with young people as extremely important in influencing the long-term impacts of protecting open spaces. "Both at Vida Verde and as parents, we try to model through our own excitement, awe and wonder when in nature," Laura explains. Rather than lecturing or using fear about why it's important to preserve natural spaces, she has found that this wonder-based approach sparks a natural curiosity for kids and builds more intrinsic care and appreciation for the land and environment.

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Cindy Roessler Open Stories

When Cindy Roessler started at Midpen she was one of only two biologists on staff, which meant there were a lot of acres for her to cover. Throughout her 15 years at Midpen, she worked on hundreds of projects that ranged from restoration planting to mountain lion research. “I learned a lot on the job. I love being a biologist because each day is always wonderfully different than you expect, there is always more to learn.”

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Open Stories - Roberta Cavazos

Roberta Cavazos regularly enjoys visiting a variety of preserves. “My husband and I try and visit one of the preserves every weekend. We always find something new and amazing on each visit,” she says.  Even more special to her are the times she gets get to share the preserves with her grandchildren. “Seeing things through their eyes is such a fun experience. It brings out the kid in us.” She recalls many memorable visits, “we would count the banana slugs, and got to over 100 on one hike! Trying to name the different wildflowers and of course finding lizards on the way.”

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Open Stories - Lennie Roberts

One of our most precious natural resources. The sixth supervisor in San Mateo County. Lennie Roberts has been called many things over her 50+ year career as an environmental advocate. Most often, perhaps, simply: hero.

In 2009, Lennie was voted the Cox Conserves Hero for the Bay Area; in 2016, she received the Environmental Hero Award from the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club and in 2019 Bay Nature Magazine named her a local hero for her work to protect open space on the San Mateo County Coastside.

“Her legacy here on the coast is what you don’t see,” Midpen Board President Zoe Kersteen-Tucker says. “You don’t see thousands of houses sprawling up the mountainside. What you do see are the beautiful scenic vistas and the agricultural lands.”

As a volunteer legislative advocate for Green Foothills since 1978, Lennie is renowned for standing strong on principle while seeking middle ground.

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Open Stories - Sharyl Iwata

Sharyl Iwata has been a visitor of Midpen land at preserves like Rancho San Antonio County Park & Open Space Preserve for more than 20 years. In reflection, Sharyl describes what the preserve has meant to her, “It has been a place for so many activities that bring joy, balance, and comfort. It is going to ‘church’. It is where my friends and I would meet to go for runs, and hikes, and catch up, sweat, laugh, and support one another. It is where I would go to clear my head, get distracted by the looking at the water level in the creek, the deer, the wild turkeys, counting squirrels, poison oak, California Buckeye, and snakes. It is where I have run into so many other friends and colleagues.”

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Open Stories - Geri Merrigan

Geri Merrigan has been a frequent explorer in Midpen’s El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve for 20 years.  She regularly shares the trail with her partner, Walter and remembers a unique experience this from this past January. “We saw a band of 100+ blue jays flitting from tree to tree in front of us as we walked down Timberview Trail,” she fondly recalled. “On that day, over six miles of trails, we saw 2-3 small, fluffy white owl feathers every 3-4 feet! Thousands of downy little feathers, far more than we have ever seen before.”

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Audrey Rust - Open Stories

For Audrey Rust, former president of the Palo Alto-based nonprofit land trust Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a deep connection to nature and a desire to protect it goes back to childhood. As a teenager in Connecticut, she convinced developers building a road through the woods near her home to transplant some of the lady slipper orchids she loved, which have since been listed as a species of special concern, onto her mother’s property.

“They only lasted a few years, but it gave me a little boost,” she said.

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Open Stories - Bill Bauriedel

Bill Bauriedel has been visiting Midpen preserves for over 40 years, both as a visitor and as a docent naturalist. During his time, he’s had many memorable hikes, including one snowy day at Skyline Ridge, “It had snowed overnight and it was cold (at least by California standards) and we were the only ones at the preserve when we arrived,” he remembered.  “We walked down to Horseshoe Lake and then out onto the Lambert Creek Trail. There was fresh snow on the trail and there were rabbit prints crossing the trail. It was totally silent and beautiful. We knew we had made the right decision to be there that day.”

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Open Stories - Sameer Jayakar

Chale Chalo means “let’s walk together” in Hindi and Sameer Jayakar’s passion inspired others to get walking together outdoors. Jayakar was a volunteer, donor and participant at the South Asian Heart Center at El Camino Hospital, where he worked to mobilize the community to become physically active through hiking and biking.  Part of this included the popular Chale Chalo events that he organized throughout the region for over 15 years. 

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Open Stories - Jerry Hill

Jerry Hill has been a fixture in San Mateo County and state politics for over 30 years; helping to improve the quality of life for his constituents and championing numerous public interest and well-being-related causes.

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Open Stories - Eric Remington

“If you go out to one of the preserves around here, there’s magic to be found,” says Eric Remington. Few folks would be more tuned-in to the magic than Remington, who has been exploring the Santa Cruz Mountain region in and around the preserves for more than 40 years.  

At a young age, he would often join his father, a biology professor, on field research trips with graduate students where he developed a reputation for skill with a butterfly net. Living what he described as an “adventure-filled life,” he has long felt a connection to nature and at peace while communing with the wilderness. 

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Open Stories - Herb Grench

In 1973, not long after the formation of Midpen, Herb Grench became its first general manager. While working in his previous position at Lockheed as a nuclear physicist, he spent his personal time as a conservationist, serving as a Palo Alto planning commission member, a leader in the local Audubon society chapter and on the Committee for Green Foothills. Herb’s passion and determination made him the perfect fit for the role. “I just changed my avocation into a vocation,” he said at the time.

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Open Stories - Rich Gordon

Midpen is a much bigger district thanks, in part, to former Assemblymember Rich Gordon.

For almost 30 years, Rich Gordon provided leadership and elected representation to the residents of San Mateo and Santa Clara County. In 1992 he was elected to the San Mateo County Board of Education. He was then elected the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 1997, serving for 13 years. Finally, in 2010, he joined the California State Assembly where he became one of the most productive legislators during his six-year tenure. Several of his signed bills helped Midpen improve its fiscal health and better manage its natural and working lands.

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Open Stories - Gabby Burns

Animals of all varieties have always fascinated Gabbie Burns, but birds are her calling. The excitement of birding and spending time in open spaces is a year-round love for Gabbie. “Spending time in open space is restorative for us”, believes Gabbie. “It nourishes our hearts, minds, and souls.

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Open Stories - Donald Aitken

Open Stories remembers Donald Aitken who passed away this February at the age of 85. Aitken was an environmental pioneer who played an instrumental role in the establishment of multiple influential organizations. His contributions to the environmental community are a testament to what can grow and flourish when we work together for the greater good.

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Open Stories - Nonette Hanko

Midpen’s 50th anniversary celebrations would not be complete without recognizing Nonette Hanko. She spearheaded the grassroots movement that led to the creation of Midpen by voters in 1972, and served 46 consecutive years on our publicly elected board of directors from 1972-2018. This year, she was selected as a local conservation hero by the Bay Nature Institute, and we are celebrating this well-deserved award and her legacy as a champion of open space.

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Poe Casavant Open Stories

Nature is where Poe Casavant thrives. When she isn’t working as a writer or robotic prop and hairpiece designer, you can find her outdoors – crashing through the waves in her kayak, leading a marathon hike, jumping out of airplanes or training for her current goal of climbing the highest peak on every continent.

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Open Stories - Jean Rusmore

In her 101 years on this earth, Jean Rusmore did much to promote the preservation of open space. She contributed to her local neighborhood, community and to the larger world through hiking, writing and advocating for the environment.

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Open Stories - Richard Tejeda

Richard Tejeda knows first-hand the power of nature to transform a life. While growing up in South San Jose he became familiar with the revolving-door system many youth and adults can suffer due to social injustice. “I was surrounded by negativity like drug dealers, drug addicts—including family members,” he says. “Nature literally saved my life. I was supposed to be a statistic, but I couldn’t let that happen. I had to reinvent myself, and nature was a positive escape from the everyday negativity of my neighborhood."

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Open Stories - Craig Britton

Much of the land protected by Midpen can be attributed to the efforts of former General Manager Craig Britton. After joining Midpen in 1977 as land acquisition manager, Britton was promoted to assistant general manager in 1979 and served as the District’s second general manager from 1994 until his retirement in 2008. During his time at Midpen, the District grew from just eight preserves to the 26 we now own and manage!

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Open Stories - Dennis Danielson

Dennis Danielson joined the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District as a ranger in 1979, joining some of the first to be hired by newly formed agency. “When I was hired there was no maintenance staff so the ranger staff ‘did it all’. We were the ambassadors and face of the District. Building and maintaining trails was a major element as well as enforcing the regulations, responding to emergencies and providing information to visitors.”  

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Open Stories - Joel Gartland

As a Bay Area transplant, Joel Gartland was looking for ways to get to know the region. What he found was the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Enamored by the vision of circumnavigating the San Francisco Bay through connected hiking and cycling trails on the region’s ridgelines, he began attending meetings, learning about different trails, preserves and areas to explore. His curiosity propelled him to begin participating in volunteer events, join the Board of Directors and eventually become the organization’s Volunteer and Events Coordinator.

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Open Stories - Abe Oren

April is #NationalVolunteerMonth, and in some areas, wildflowers are blooming more profusely as a direct result of the work of our many indispensable volunteers. Abe Oren is one of those volunteers!

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Open Stories - Steve Abbors

Former Midpen General Manager Steve Abbors is a naturalist at heart. In conversation he casually throws out facts about birds and butterflies. He logs hundreds of trail miles per month.

Caring for the land was a main driver throughout his career. “If you look at a map of the Bay Area, it’s surrounded by this great, green area of land in public ownership,” Abbors explains.  “The oxygen that we breathe, the water that gets purified, the food that we have, the carbon that gets sequestered. That’s all done there. That’s what that land is, it’s our life support system. So, we care for the land that cares for us.”

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Open Stories - Don Weden

Perched high above the sprawling neighborhoods, downtowns and business districts of Silicon Valley, Don Weden often thinks about balance. The need for intelligently designed urban cores needs to be juxtaposed by nearby, easily accessible open space. “I’ve always been drawn to the 30,000-foot view,” he said as he explained both his penchant for sweeping vistas and his career in long-range planning.

In his 32 years as a Planner for Santa Clara County, Weden has been involved in crafting Master Plans for the County and Midpen, helping guide the future of the region. “Fifty years ago, most of the regional parks, trails and public open space lands did not exist,” he said. “We have an excellent ecosystem in this county of agencies, advocates and nonprofit organizations that helped create and now expand open space preservation.” The key efforts and decisions made in the 1970s laid the roots for subsequent successes.

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Open Stories - Judy and David N. Daniels

As we prepare to welcome visitors back to the David C. Daniels Nature Center next Saturday, April 2, this week Open Stories remembers Judy and David N. Daniels. As nature center hosts and significant contributors to Midpen, Judy and David felt honored to welcome countless weekend visitors to the David C. Daniels Nature Center (established and funded in large part by the Daniels' and named in memory of their son).

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Jayita Bhojwani Open Stories

Shortly after moving to the Bay Area to work in tech, Jayita Bhojwani took a hike that would change the course of her career. “I had signed up to attend a docent-led wildflower hike at Russian Ridge and came back completely awed – by the enormity of Midpen’s story of the land they’d protected, by the magnificence of the vistas, and by the wildflowers, which felt nothing short of miraculous,” said Jayita.

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Karen White Open Stories

Karen White’s oil paintings capture the vibrant color of Bay Area open space through every season. Not only does Karen paint scenes depicting open space, but she also paints outdoors in open space. She will often paint small color studies “en plein air,” and then return to the studio to create larger, stylized versions of the small paintings she created while out in open space.  

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Raja Ramakrishnan Open Stories

Raja Ramakrishnan travels the world with his camera, capturing nature “in its most pristine form.” His photos show us glimpses from Singapore, New York, Vermont, Hawaii, and southern India’s wash of lush green. From first light to nightscapes, backpacking camps to busy city streets and lighthouses to cathedrals, Raja calls himself the chaser of light. Luckily for us, Midpen is one of his regular chasing grounds. His first preserve visit was to Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve back in 2004. 

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Open Stories - Jay Thorwaldson

Growing up in Los Gatos below what is now Midpen’s El Sereno Open Space Preserve, Jay Thorwaldson learned to ride a horse when he was just 3 years old. He spent his childhood riding the ridges and valleys of the Santa Cruz Mountains, exploring from Mount Umunhum to the town of Alma, now under Lexington Reservoir. Growing up with near unlimited access to these hillsides instilled in him the importance of permanently protecting the land for future generations. 

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Claudia Newbold - Open Stories

After retiring from a career in finance in 2001, Claudia Newbold wanted to “do something useful.” This meant finding out how to help care for the open space that she loves so deeply. Claudia first became interested in protecting open space when she and her late husband were hiking the trails together and began attending some of Midpen’s docent-led hikes.  

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Betsy Crowder - Open Stories

An advocate, environmentalist and public servant through and through, Betsy Crowder dedicated much of her life to the preservation and the restoration of natural habitats within the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

Her early love of the outdoors was sparked by her family’s regular camping trips in the province of New Brunswick, Canada. A Boston native, she moved to the Peninsula in 1948 to attend Stanford University. While there, she began to understand the collective power of organized advocacy through her participation in multiple environmental and civic organizations such as the Audubon Society, Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy and the League of Women Voters.

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Frances Reneau - Open Stories

In 1998, Frances Reneau decided to reevaluate her life. “I was 43 and going through a midlife crisis in my career,” she recalls, “I wanted a change.” Having worked seasonally with Midpen in the past, she knew spending her time outdoors brought meaning to her life, but she wasn’t sure which career path was right for her. After speaking with a few Midpen rangers, Frances decided to apply to be one of them. She got the job. 

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Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and dedicated conservationist

For this Open Story, we honor the late Wallace Stegner, Stanford’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and dedicated conservationist. Stegner was an avid appreciator of Midpen Open Space from our 1970s beginning to his death in 1993. Given his place in history as one of the most venerable voices of the American West, it’s easy to imagine how his time in the open space fed his passion for the sanctity of the outdoors. His 1960 “Wilderness Letter” helped Congress pass the 1964 Wilderness Act, establishing the national wilderness preservation system.

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Open Stories - Aurora Perez, Latino Outdoors Favorite Preserve: Bear Creek Redwoods — there’s something so magical about walking through the lovely scents of the bay laurel trees, finding newts and banana slugs along the trail, and walking amongst old-growth redwood groves. “When I’m out in open space, I feel at peace, I feel more grounded and I feel a sense of belonging. I am more likely to practice mindfulness and take a moment to appreciate all the little and big things in life.”

Born and raised in Southern California, Aurora Perez’s earliest outdoor memories are of camping trips in the Angeles National Forest. She celebrated many birthdays together with her family amongst the trees, in the snow and under the stars.

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Open Stories - Valentin Lopez

Valentin Lopez had recently been elected chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band when the elders paid a visit. They said we needed to get back to taking care of Mother Earth and all living things, Lopez explained. “We didn’t know how we were going to do that because whenever we would look at the lands, we’d see ‘private property,’ ‘keep out,’ ‘no trespassing,’” he said. “So, we did what we always do, we prayed. We prayed as a tribe, asking Creator to help us find a way back.” 
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Midpen 50th Anniversary logo

Caring for the Land that Cares for Us. Fifty years ago, our community prioritized clean air and water, healthy habitats for diverse native plants and animals, ecosystems that are resilient to the effects of our changing climate and places for people to connect with nature – that's what Midpen provides in perpetuity. 

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