Mountaintops have always beckoned people. They figure literally and metaphorically in art, culture, and religion around the world. Mount Umunhum, which we are hard at work restoring and preparing to open to the public this fall, is no exception.
This mountain is central to the creation story of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, who have lived near it for thousands of years. The mercury mines near its eastern slopes are the setting for Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel “Angle of Repose”. And the US Air Force found the lofty peak a strategic place from which to protect our country during the Cold War.
To protect and restore the natural environment and provide opportunities for ecologically sensitive public enjoyment are tenets of Midpen’s mission, and that is exactly what we’re doing atop Mount Umunhum. We’re working to permanently protect the summit as part of an intact greenbelt of undeveloped, natural open space that is our region’s essential life support system. We have restored the peak by removing buildings and contaminants, recontoured the once-leveled ridge to more closely reflect its original shape, and are reestablishing the native flora. The mountain’s incredible geology, plants, and animals have been an ongoing source of surprise and delight for us during the restoration process, and the carefully crafted amenities under construction right now will allow the public to experience these natural wonders too.
One element already complete at the summit is a ceremonial circle, suggested by the Amah Mutsun as a place to dance, pray, and bring all people together. It is a low, circular rock wall 60-feet in diameter made by hand using stones from a nearby quarry. It is elemental, functional, and enduring while providing a space for people from all walks of life to find their own meaningful experiences and connections on the mountain. In this way, it exemplifies the goal of public access to Mount Umunhum.
Like mountains, circles are also universal symbols. In the process of protecting and restoring this peak, we’re coming full-circle on a 10,000-year arc of human history. This project has been mountainous in so many ways, and we are thrilled to be returning Mount Umunhum to you this fall, permanently protected with ecological restoration well underway, as Midpen’s gift to the Bay Area for generations to come.
Stephen E. Abbors