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.
You may not know local resident Karl Gohl personally, but if an image featured in a Midpen newsletter, on our website or gracing the walls of our office lobby in large format has stopped you in your tracks, you’ve likely appreciated his artful nature photography.
“My wife and I have been hiking in Midpen preserves since the 1970s, and we have always found them to be full of interesting things and beautiful scenery. The advent of digital photography gave me the freedom to take lots of pictures in the preserves,” Gohl said.
From the smallest butterfly, wildflower and leaf to dramatic panoramic landscapes, Gohl has generously donated hundreds of images to Midpen over the last two decades that explore the beauty and biodiversity of Midpen preserves, and invite others to find meaningful connection with nature, too. Thank you, Karl!
In his heart, Doug McConnell has two long-held passions: nature and storytelling. These interests have helped guide him through his storied career as a broadcast journalist. McConnell has produced and hosted multiple local and national specials, news reports and long-running nature series including Bay Area Backroads for 16 years, Mac and Mutley in the 1980s and 1990s and OpenRoad with Doug McConnell coming up on its ninth season on NBC Bay Area.
“Getting a chance to do what I have been now doing for so many decades, which is to go wander around, usually with a small camera team and put the spotlight on great people, great places and the wonderful people doing great things on our behalf, has really been a way for me to combine my two passions in life,” he explained.
John Armstrong grew up on the Peninsula, spending many years hiking at Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, Foothills Park, and Windy Hill Preserve.
After a career as a financial analyst Armstrong went on to serve as a board member and a volunteer for Environmental Volunteers. Like Midpen, the nonprofit organization was founded in 1972 and is dedicated to the education of children and adults on environmental responsibility through hands-on learning. “I’ve been privileged to lead kids on discovery walks and earthquake geology hikes at Monte Bello and Los Trancos preserves” he says. “What treasures these parks are and what amazing places to inspire a love of science and nature in our local children.”
Reflecting on the legacy of the two organizations, Armstrong expresses his gratitude. “I’m always thankful for the foresight of those who set aside these spaces and to the founders of the Environmental Volunteers who, 50 years ago, saw the need to provide places for students to get to see nature; so they could experience it, know it, enjoy it, and grow to take care of it.”
An avid mountain biker, Charlie Krenz serves on the Board of Directors for the Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers, a non-profit promoting mountain bike recreation and establishing sustainable access throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. He is a passionate advocate for responsible mountain bike use and the preservation of open space.
“I just feel more at home in a natural ecosystem. I feel like if we're using the lands in a sustainable way, we’re thinking ahead for those who will come after us,” says Charlie. “Think about what it would have been like without Midpen and POST: Cars and golf courses, sprawl all the way to the coast vs hiking and riding trails, incredible views, nature. I’m so thankful to the preservationists that came before us.”
Barbara Green’s first elected position was as one of Midpen’s first board members in 1974, serving Ward 3 until 1983. After her time at Midpen, she continued to channel her interest in politics and passion for the environment into an over 30-year career in land use planning and open space protection, serving in elected and appointed positions in the Bay Area and later in Truckee. She took great pride in knowing that she could help change the fate of a piece of land by transferring it from urban development to permanent open space. Her contributions were far reaching as she served on multiple boards including San Francisco Bay Trail Commission, Committee for Green Foothills, Trail Center, League to Save Lake Tahoe, and Truckee Donner Land Trust.
Bob Garcia was studying biology at San Jose State University in 1975 when he got the call from staff at Midpen, then a newly created public agency, in need of someone to help build out the ranger program and get eyes and ears on the ground in the first open space preserves. At the time, the agency was still known as the Midpeninsula Regional Parks District. When Garcia joined, there were fewer than 10 total employees.
Vince Garrod, former owner and operator of Garrod Farms in Saratoga, was a conservationist and a prominent member of the Saratoga community. Born in 1918 and raised in Saratoga, he spent his life on the family farm and after growing prunes and apricots for 50 years, he developed a horse livery business.
Lily Lee was one of the driving forces behind the clean-up of Cooley Landing, working for the City of East Palo Alto, on loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to help facilitate cleanup of the former toxic dump and raise millions of dollars towards implementation of the project. Later, sponsored by the Packard Foundation, she managed the project full-time during the completion of the remediation and restoration effort.
If you have ever attended a Midpen educational event, you may have seen Reggie, a taxidermy mountain lion that serves as Midpen’s Puma concolor ambassador. In life, Reggie was a four-year-old, 130-pound male mountain lion who lived near Ukiah in northern California. He has been with Midpen since 1997 after we acquired him from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. When he is not out helping us educate the public, he resides in the front lobby of our office.
Mountain lions, badgers, gray foxes, coyotes and dusky-footed woodrats, oh my! Ken Hickman has captured amazing photos of all these charismatic species and more on his array of wildlife cameras. Ken specializes in building high-quality, sensor-triggered cameras that can last in the field for many months while they photograph animals that pass by. He has been conducting wildlife surveys throughout California for nearly 15 years, working with many different public and private agencies, including Midpen.
Upon graduating from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in Natural Resources, José González noticed a lack of overlap between Latino-serving and conservation focused organizations. José’s passion to bridge this gap began in 2013 as an online blog that has grown into the national organization Latino Outdoors.
Latino Outdoors inspires to connect and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative, ensuring our history, heritage, and leadership are valued and represented.
When Jack Owicki took a step back from his intense career in Silicon Valley biotech, he wanted to go back to his youth and reconnect with nature. “I began spending a lot of time outdoors, and the places I spent the most time were Midpen preserves.” In order to give back to the lands he loves and to connect with like-minded people, Jack joined the 2008 class of Midpen docent-naturalists. “I wanted to give back and be able to help others learn about and enjoy nature,” said Jack.
Jack’s favorite critters are often ones that give others the heebie-jeebies. “I tend to like creatures that most people don’t like. Mostly that involves invertebrates. More than anything else I like arachnids like spiders, scorpions and solifugids.”
As one of the “original nine” rangers hired by Midpen, David Sanguinetti, or “Sango” as he was more commonly known around the organization, has a thorough recollection of the early days at Midpen. “It was like a startup,” he explained. “We did law enforcement; we did trail building and maintenance. We did it all. We were true generalist rangers. We had the unique opportunity to create the culture and style of the agency and programs.”
Hired in 1980, eight years after Santa Clara County voters voted to create what is now known as Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Sango witnessed the evolution of the agency from its original six preserves to 26. In his time, the rangers went from what he described as a “helter-skelter crew” to a professional team that had matching uniforms, well-maintained vehicles, and a reputation for approaching all visitors with a willingness to help and provide a touchpoint for preserve-goers.
Midpen’s docent naturalist program has long provided enriched experiences that connect people to each other and the essential benefits of time spent outdoors. Among the many nature enthusiasts generously giving of their time to plan and lead free guided activities in Midpen preserves, Midpen Docent Naturalist Chris MacIntosh has been at it longer than any other.
In 1979, MacIntosh was among one of Midpen’s first graduating classes of docent naturalists, who go through a rigorous training program. To this day, after more than four decades, she continues to take the public on enriching outings that feature a wide variety of topics including rainy-season hikes in search of fungi, birding by the bay and many other adventures and wanderings. She also participates in Midpen’s volunteer trail patrol program.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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!
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.