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The wide-open spaces of Marin; three preserves for March outings ... views, wildflowers, redwoods, oak pastures.

The wide-open spaces of Marin

It takes nothing away from Point Reyes orMount Tamalpais to say there are other excellent places in Marin County to hike. The lands of the Marin County Open Space District may not be as famous, but they make for fine March outings.

The district was founded in 1972 to preserveopen space in a rapidly developing suburban county. Since then, it has acquired 20 preserves, which total 6,200 acres (see map at right).

One goal has been to protect mountainridges that separate communities. But the preserves also include bay marshes, oak pastures, and redwood groves--almost a Marin-in-miniature.

Preserve lands have been kept free ofdeveloped facilities. Fires are prohibited, and vehicle access is strictly controlled. Backpack camping is allowed by permit, available at the district office.

We suggest March walks in three preservesthat are particularly inviting this time of year. For maps and directions to these and other preserves, stop by the district office, open 8 to 5 weekdays, in Room 335 at the Marin County Civic Center, Civic Center Drive, San Rafael; telephone is (415) 499-6387. Other open space hikes are described in Tacy Dunham's 1986 Wandering Marin Trails, $4.95 in Marin bookshops and outdoor stores.

Mount Burdell. Dr. Galen Burdell arrivedin California with the gold rush, but appears, in his dental career, to have found fillings more profitable than ore. In time, his Marin County property included the 1,558-foot hill that carries his name.

A 2 1/2-mile fire road leads to Burdell's top;other roads loop gently around its slopes, which support cattle, valley oak, California buckeye, and, this time of year, a bright palette of wildflowers. Views from the summit are expansive: to the west, the Marin hills; to the east, San Pablo Bay; to the north, the remainder of Dr. Burdell's lands, set to open in two or three years as Olompali State Historic Park.

From U.S. 101 in Novato, take the SanMarin Drive exit and head west 2 miles; turn north on San Andreas Drive and proceed until you see the wooden entrance gate on the right. Hiking the fire road, you fork right to reach boggy Hidden Lake, then left to climb steeply up the slope, then right once more to the summit.

Indian Tree. This 1 1/2-mile hike starts atthe west end of Novato's Vineyard Road. To reach the trailhead, follow the directions to Mount Burdell but keep going on San Marin Drive as it becomes Sutro Avenue. Turn west on Vineyard Road and proceed to where it loses its pavement; park at roadside.

The trail runs south from the road, crossingNorth Marin Water District land before climbing to join a fire road that marches up the ridge. You'll see your destination before you get there: dark, pillar-like redwoods etched against the sky. This dense stand of trees makes a good resting place after a surprisingly steep climb. Immediately west of them, you break back into the sunlight and a view of open, grassy hills. Return the way you came, or, shortly below the summit, take a left fork that leads down the mountain to the Sunset Corral stables.

Those who'd rather explore on hoof thanon foot can rent horses at Sunset Corral. Prices are $10 per hour; the stables are open 9 to 5 daily. For more information, call (415) 897-8212.

Blithedale Summit. This peak draws itsname from the Blithedale Hotel, an 1880s Mill Valley resort that in turn was named for the vision of happiness spelled out in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance. Romantic indeed are the views here. If you're not looking at the green fedora of Mount Tam, you're gazing over Mill Valley toward San Francisco, floating pale as oeufs a la neige on the bay.

From U.S. 101 in Mill Valley, exit on E.Blithedale Avenue and stay on it as it becomes W. Blithedale. About 3 miles from the freeway, you cross a small concrete bridge; near it, on the north side of the road, is the trailhead. From here, you hike a fire road up to Blithedale Ridge Road. If you go southeast, you'll walk along Blithedale Ridge; you can fork toward Madera Ridge Road and the Summit Drive trailhead, a distance of 2 miles. If you go northwest on Blithedale Ridge Road, you reach the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail, on which you can wind north to a trailhead at Crown Road or connect with other Mount Tam trails.

At all trailheads, parking is limited; youmight want to come on a quiet weekday.

Photo: Grassy slopes of Mount Burdell, largest of the preserves, give miles of walking, with views toward hills of West Marin

Photo: Marin preserves (ingreen) provide natural buffers between growing communities

Photo: From Blithedale Summit, hikers look southeastacross Mill Valley to San Francisco Bay

Photo: Redwood grove at Indian Tree preservecan be enjoyed on rented horse or on foot

Photo: Knotted forms of valley oaks dominate Mount Burdellscene; deciduous oaks should be well leafed-out this month

Photo: Burdell's blooms of blue-eyed grass shouldbe joined by other March wildflowers
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Marin County Open Space District, California
Date:Mar 1, 1987
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