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The call of the open (space) road.

Heed it, and head for the Bay Area's green hills. You'll see why they're worth protecting

THE BAY AREA IN April is so delectable it inspires thoughts of mutiny. The hill are that true green you're supposed to find only in County Mayo, and they're embroidered with lupine and poppies. Oaks are pushing out new leaves. You'll be commuting to work down Interstate 580 or U.S. Highway 101 and see those green hills through your windshield and you'll think, Let's go.

We're here to tell you, give in. Okay, don't risk your job (not in this economy), but take an approved day off to explore some corners of the Bay Area you may have forgotten about, or may never have known. If the thought of such gleeful escapism makes you feel guilty, just think of the getaway as continuing education. For you'll be getting acquainted with one of the Bay Area's vital an threatened treasures: open space.


"In terms of a grade, we're doing C to C+ work," says Larry Orman, director of Greenbelt Alliance, a non-profit group devoted to promoting and preserving open space in the Bay Area. "We need to be doing B to B+ or better. As a region, the Bay Area has done a lot of good things to preserve open space. But right now, the pressure of continued development is threatening to undo a lot of those goo things."

Much open space, of course, has already been lost as the Bay Area has grown int the nation's fifth-largest metropolitan area. Currently about 750,000 acres of the nine-county Bay Area is urbanized; another 3.7 million acres remain in open space, with about half of that in agriculture. Greenbelt Alliance estimates tha under current land-use plans 600,000 acres of our remaining open space--an area about the size of six San Joses--could be developed within the next 30 years.

Some of the hottest battles are in the East Bay. Alameda County is considering general plan that would open an additional 14,000 acres of Livermore Valley to development and double the valley's population. Nearby, the proposed Mid-State Toll Road--a privately funded route from the Livermore Valley north to Solano County--is undergoing environmental review by Caltrans. Proponents hail the tol road as an innovative solution to transportation problems. Opponents charge the road would only add to the region's traffic woes as it opens up new portions of Alameda, Contra Costa, and Solano counties to development.

At the same time, clear open-space victories have been won. All told, the nine Bay Area counties have 820,000 acres of public open space--that's an area large than Yosemite National Park. Sonoma and Santa Clara counties both recently established their own open space districts; a funding measure for the Santa Clara agency is on the county's June ballot.


One drive that lets you sample Bay Area open space in its considerable variety climbs from San Jose east into the Diablo Range, then dips into the little-know San Antonio Valley to run north toward the Livermore Valley and the hills above it. It's an 80-mile (one-way), most-of-the-day excursion that leads to hiking, picnicking, wine tasting, mountain biking, and some surprising scenery. Some cautions: much of the route is narrow and winding, and groceries and gas pumps are few and far between.

From U.S. 101 or Interstate 680 in San Jose, take Alum Rock Avenue cast. Two miles east of I-680, turn right on Mount Hamilton Road. You climb quickly into the foothills of the Diablo Range, with houses giving way to pastureland dotted by gnarled oaks. In about 8 miles, you'll reach your first stop, Joseph D. Gran County Park (408/274-6121). This 9,500-acre park was a cattle ranch for more than a century; a gracious two-story ranch house serves as park headquarters an interpretive center, and most of the park's 40 miles of trails are old ranch roads. The 4-mile loop on the Halls Valley, Canada de Pala, and Los Huecos trails should have particularly good wildflower displays this month.

From the park, the road climbs and curves in that manner beloved by directors o sports car commercials, and in about 10 miles crests Mount Hamilton. At 4,209 feet, Hamilton is the third-tallest mountain in the Diablo Range; 4,372-foot Mount Copernicus lies just to the north and 4,223 Mount Isabel just to the southeast. But though Copernicus may lie nearest to the stars and bear a more suitably astronomical name, it's Hamilton that has achieved stellar prominence, thanks to the 120-inch reflecting telescope operated by Lick Observatory (408/274-5061). The telescope gallery is open to visitors from 10 to 5 daily, the visitor center from 12:30 to 5 daily, with free tours on the half-hour between 1 and 4:30.

After cresting Mount Hamilton, the road changes names, becoming San Antonio Valley Road as it corkscrews downward. The view east into San Antonio Valley is utterly spectacular: at few places in the Bay Area can you get such a sense of what the region must have looked like a century ago. After it reaches the valle floor, San Antonio Valley Road runs north parallel to Arroyo Mocho, then become Mines Road at the Alameda County line. About 15 miles past the county line is another potential park stop, 4,500-acre Del Valle Regional Park (510/373-0332), with boating, swimming, bicycling, 150 campsites, and more than 15 miles of trails.

Mines Road continues north into Livermore. On the south side of town, you see a number of well-tended vineyards, whose continued presence is a success story of open space preservation. One of the oldest wine regions in California, the Livermore Valley saw more and more of its vineyards falling to development. Wanting to preserve a proud appellation, the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton worked with Alameda County to create the South Livermore Valley Area Plan, whic discourages sprawl and encourages viticulture. Right now, a half-dozen wineries welcome visitors. Concannon (510/455-7770), at 4590 Tesla Road, is one of the most venerable. Another well-known name is Wente Bros., which has a winery at 5565 Tesla (447-3603) and a sparkling wine cellar and restaurant at 5050 Arroyo Road (447-3696).

For one last open space stop, continue north on Livermore Avenue across Interstate 580. In about 4 miles, turn right onto winding, sometimes one-lane Morgan Territory Road and climb 6 more miles to Morgan Territory Regional Preserve (757-2620). The park, which takes in 4,675 acres of rolling hills, is deservedly popular among horseback riders and mountain bicyclists. One good 7-mile bike ride can be made by taking Volvon, Blue Oak, and Valley View trails north, then returning on Volvon Trail to the park's entrance.

From the park, drive back down Morgan Territory Road to return to Interstate 580.


Two other drives, on the Peninsula and in the North Bay, also showcase Bay Area open space at its best.

Half Moon Bay to Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Coastside San Mateo County remains remarkably undeveloped, thanks in large part to a coastal protection initiative passed in 1986. This 53-mile drive takes you south along the coast and then leads you back on roads that run slightly inland.

From Half Moon Bay, drive south on State 1. In 10 miles you'll reach the junction of State 84 and the beginning of a stretch of fine state beaches: San Gregorio, Pomponio, Pescadero, and Bean Hollow (415/879-2025). South of Bean Hollow you'll spy Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and then Ano Nuevo State Reserve (879-0227); the guided elephant seal viewing ended last month, but the reserve is still worth a visit.

From Ano Nuevo, you can return north the way you came. For an inland alternative, turn east about 5 miles north of Ano Nuevo on gravel Gazos Creek Road, which climbs to redwood-shaded Butano State Park (879-0173); from here, Cloverdale and Stage roads roll north over gentle hills to the hamlets of Pescadero and San Gregorio, respectively. Stay on Stage Road past San Gregorio to return to State 1.

Petaluma to Point Reyes Station. Western Marin County remains largely dairy country through the joint efforts of Marin farmers and urban dwellers on the county's east side. Neighboring Sonoma County has recently established its own Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. This 45-mile drive takes you through the heart of this pastoral landscape.

From Petaluma, head southwest on Western Avenue, which becomes Chileno Valley Road and then Marshall-Petaluma Road. Stay on Marshall-Petaluma for 13 miles as it crosses high rolling hills, then drops you down to Tomales Bay. At Marshall, turn south on State 1, which keeps to the east shore of the bay for 10 miles until you reach Point Reyes Station. Hiking and picnic opportunities abound at nearby Point Reyes National Seashore (415/663-1092). To head home, loop back northeast on Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, which in 19 miles returns you to Petaluma.


To explore other parts of the Bay Area's open space, you can join one of the regular tours led by Greenbelt Alliance. Scheduled for March 26 is a tour of th Montezuma Hills in Solano County; on March 27, a loop bike ride around Uvas and Chesbro reservoirs in Santa Clara County; on April 2, a bike ride through Coleman Valley in Sonoma County; and on April 10, a hike in Morgan Territory Regional Preserve. For a complete schedule of spring events, including a week-long bicycle tour of the Bay Area greenbelt, call or write Greenbelt Alliance, 116 New Montgomery Street, Suite 640, San Francisco 94105; (415) 543-4291.
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Title Annotation:the green hills of San Francisco Bay Area, California
Author:Fish, Peter
Date:Apr 1, 1994
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