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Old ranches, new parks just north of Santa Cruz.

Old ranches, new parks just north of Santa Cruz

Fields of artichokes and Brussels sproutstended for generations by the same families compose an unspoiled pastoral landscape along the coast north of Santa Cruz, just over the hills from the Bay Area's increasingly crowded southern reaches. Nowhere else in California will you find such a large expanse of rural coastline so near a major center of population.

New state park lands acquired with theaid of private conservation groups offer some assurance that this region will retain its agricultural traditions. At the same time, the purchases will open up three areas to the public for recreational use.

Campgrounds and other facilities are stillin the planning stages, but you'll find opportunities now for a look at what's to come. At one park, you can spend a day inspecting ranch buildings that represent a century and a half of local history. Naturalist-led walks will introduce you to a second park's newest addition. A third one, graced with 4,000 acres of grassland and forest, won't be open until later this year. All three retreats are within 20 miles of Santa Cruz.

On May 9, festive goings-on at Wilder Ranch

Wilder Ranch State Park begins about amile west of Santa Cruz and continues along both sides of State Highway 1 for almost 3 1/2 miles. Though most of the park is still closed to the public, visitors can look at its historic buildings during an open house on May 9, sponsored by the Friends of Wilder Ranch and the Monterey Bay Natural History Association.

On the grounds, an 1830s adobe remainsfrom the time when this was Rancho Refugio, a huge Mexican land grant. Other 19th-century structures include a shop equipped with water-powered machinery and a long dairy barn of hand-hewn timbers held together with wooden pegs and painstaking joinery. For a first-hand account of the ranch's history, talk to ranch foreman Led Engelsman, who's worked here for 58 years.

Guided walks to the ocean's edge acquaintvisitors with some of the park's natural assets. Ferns thrive in a damp grotto carved into the bluffs; harbor seals bask on a favorite rock just off shore. Along the way, you'll pass a beach set aside as a snowy plover preserve.

Music, carriage rides, and a barbecue willround out the day's events, which begin at 10 and end at 4. Donations of $2 for adults, $1 for children are requested. The ranch entrance, about 2 1/2 miles northwest of Santa Cruz, will be clearly marked.

Beach-side addition to Big Basin

Just before touching the ocean at WaddellCreek Beach, about 18 miles northwest of Santa Cruz, a thin finger of Big Basin Redwoods State Park passes through Rancho del Oso, owned since 1913 by the family of Theodore Hoover, brother of President Hoover. Recently, the Sempervirens Fund acquired for the park an additional 50-acre parcel of the family homestead across Waddell Creek.

Striking Monterey pine forest, marsh, andbeach converge at Rancho del Oso. On Sundays starting in May, resident naturalists will lead free 3-hour nature walks in and around the new property. At the beach, keep your eyes open for mother harbor seals teaching their newborn pups to swim.

To make sure the walks aren't alreadybooked to capacity, call (408) 355-7077 at least a day in advance. Walks begin at 1 at the Rancho del Oso Nature and History Center; while there, have a look at the nature exhibits, and at old logging implements and Hoover family pictures on display. The entrance to the center is just south of Waddell Creek on the east side of State 1.

Cascade Ranch: look for access sometime in early fall

A few miles north on State 1, opposite themuch-visited Ano Nuevo State Reserve, a 4,000-acre mixture of low-lying farmland and rolling hills creased by redwood-shaded canyons awaits development as a state park. Cascade Ranch was purchased recently by the Trust for Public Lands, which in turn sold it to the state.

Portions of the park will be open to thepublic later this year, most likely in early fall. To find out the exact date, call the San Mateo Coast District of the California Department of Parks and Recreation at (415) 726-6203.

Photo: Weathered 1890s horse barn topped with fishscale-shingled mansard roof is one of several vintage buildings on view at Wilder Ranch open house on May 9

Photo: Pine-bough gateway offers dramaticapproach to beach for sea-watchers on path near Rancho del Oso

Photo: Double waterfall splashes down cliffat Cascade Ranch. Plans for new park include short trail to year-round falls
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Title Annotation:Wilder Ranch State Park, California
Date:May 1, 1987
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