The late 1960s were a time of rapid growth in the Bay Area. As tract housing and commercial development began to dominate the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” concern for the preservation of the midpeninsula’s irreplaceable foothill and bayland natural resources mounted among local residents.
Through the determined and heartfelt efforts of local conservationists, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District was created by successfully placing a voter initiative, Measure R, on the ballot in 1972. The sentiment behind Measure R is as powerful today as it was then:
Measure R will preserve open space by creating the Midpeninsula Regional Park District (currently named the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District). Open space is our green backdrop of hills. It is rolling grasslands - cool forests in the Coast Range – orchards and vineyards in the sun. It is the patch of grass between communities where children can run. It is uncluttered baylands where water birds wheel and soar, where blowing cordgrass yields its blessings of oxygen, where the din of urban life gives way to the soft sounds of nature. It is the serene, unbuilt, unspoiled earth that awakens all our senses and makes us whole again … it is room to breathe.
Measure R was approved by an overwhelming 67.71% of voters in northern Santa Clara County. Four years later in 1976, voters in southern San Mateo County elected to join the District in 1976. In 1992, the District further expanded by adding a small portion of Santa Cruz County and Coastside voters gave final approval of the Coastside Protection Program on September 7, 2004, extending the District’s boundary to the Pacific Ocean in San Mateo County, from the southern borders of Pacifica to the San Mateo-Santa Cruz county line.
40 Years of Open Space Preservation - A Brief History
1972-81: A decade of “firsts”
The District is formed and makes its first purchases. From its early days, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District would develop partnerships and financial practices that will help it leverage funding for significant regional purchases and projects over the next 40 years and beyond.
- 1972: Room to Breathe Initiative passes by 67.71% vote. Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is officially formed
- 1974: Foothills Open Space Preserve - 90 acres purchased. The very first land purchase!
- 1975: Residents approve Proposition D to add Southern San Mateo County to the District
- 1976: Los Trancos Open Space Preserve - 274 acres purchased. The first purchase in San Mateo County.
- 1977: Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) is formed to work in partnership with the District
Monte Bello Open Space Preserve - 750 acres purchased 1978
- 1980: Stevens Creek Shoreline Nature Study Area - 54 acres purchased. The first bayland purchase.
By its 10th anniversary, the District owns and manages 19 open space preserves totaling over 13,000 acres.
1982-91: Growing the Greenbelt
Midpen grows to 35,000 acres and makes its largest land purchase to date, the 2,200 acres that will become El Corte de Madera Creek Preserve with its majestic redwood forests. In 1986 alone, 5,000 acres of open space were preserved!
- 1982: Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve - 842-acre Whittemore Gulch Redwoods Preserve purchased. First property purchased north of Highway 84.
The District obtains conservation easement on over 240 acres of Hidden Villa. First conservation easement - the District owns 2,682 acres of conservation easements today.
- 1983: Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve - 293 acres purchased
- 1986: Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve - 57 acres purchased. Includes Mt. Umunhum, the former site of Almaden Air Force Station.
La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve - 250-acre Dyer property purchased. This “jewel in the crown” property is considered by many as a gateway to the San Mateo Coast.
- 1988: Teague Hill Open Space Preserve established. Teague Hill was completed in two separate transactions, from two corporations with divergent development plans.
By its 20th anniversary, the District owns and manages 25 open space preserves totaling nearly 35,000 acres.
1992-2001: Enjoying Open Space
Midpen sees an enormous increase in trail use and by the end of the decade, 1 million visits are made to the preserves every year, with half of those visits to Rancho San Antonio Preserve alone!
- 1994: Connection between Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve and Almaden Quicksilver County Park established - 900-acre Jacques Ridge property is purchased in conjunction with Santa Clara County Parks
- 1995: Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve - 1,465-acre Rancho de Guadalupe purchased
- 1997: Long Ridge Open Space - 157-acre Paul property purchased with partial grant funding. Enables the district to provide a Bay Area Ridge Trail alternate, the Achistaca Trail, which provides a key connection to California State Parks’ Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail
- 1999: Bear Creek Redwoods Preserve is established
By its 30th anniversary, the District owns and manages 25 open space preserves totaling over 47,000 acres.
2002-2011: Green Leadership
Midpen becomes an environmental leader in research and conservation. With the appearance of Sudden Oak Death on Long Ridge Preserve, Midpen works with researchers to fight the disease. On the coastside, at-risk agricultural lands and precious watersheds are now being protected by Midpen.
- 2002: Midpen and Santa Clara County Parks complete and dedicate 11 miles of Bay Area Ridge Trail stretching from Lexington County Park through Sierra Azul Regional Open Space to Almaden Quicksilver County Park
- 2003: Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve linked to Portola Redwoods State Park
- 2004: The District extends its boundaries from south of Pacifica to the Santa Cruz County line to include San Mateo Coastside lands
- 2005: Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve - 238-acre Stevens Canyon Ranch purchased. This purchase puts the District over the 50,000-acre mark of protected lands.
Miramontes Ridge Open Space Preserve - 676-acre Miramontes Ridge purchased with the help of a Coastal Conservancy grant
- 2006: La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve - 3,681-acre POST Driscoll Ranch property purchased. The property was purchased at a bargain sale price of $9 million, $16 million below the District’s appraised value
- 2007: A goal for more than 30 years, the District “drove the golden spike,” which formally connected Los Trancos Open Space Preserve to Palo Alto’s Foothills Park, creating a key connection between the Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail
- 2008: Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve - 1,047-acre POST Mindego Hill property purchased
- 2009: Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve 260-acre Bluebrush Canyon and 450-acres of Elkus Ranch in Half Moon Bay purchased. Both properties are important links in the District’s goal to connect “Purisima to the Sea”
- 2011: The District secures $3.2 million in federal funding allowing efforts to clean up the former Almaden Air Force Station atop Mount Umunhum
2012 and beyond: Imagine the Future of Open Space
As Midpen looks toward the future, it must steward increasingly fragile ecosystems and protect a growing number of sensitive species, while also making sure that people can access, use and enjoy their open spaces To address these challenges, Midpen embarkes on a multi-year Vision Plan project, engaging over 1,500 individuals who will help determine the Future of Open Space for the next 20 years and beyond.
Preserving over 62,000 acres and growing.
The District's mission is to acquire and preserve a regional greenbelt of open space land in perpetuity; protect and restore the natural environment; and provide opportunities for ecologically sensitive public enjoyment and education.