Bay Area's newest nature preserve is a Cold War relic that bridges wildlife habitats

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion KGO logo
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
New South Bay nature preserve is Cold War relic that bridges habitats
Coyote Ridge is Santa Clara County's newest open space in the area of a former rocket plant that is home to unique species and provides a critical link for migrating wildlife.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Soaring above the new Coyote Ridge Open Space in Santa Clara County may be the easiest way to take in the vibrant colors splashed along the rugged hilltops. But making those views accessible to visitors is an engineering success story, years in the making.

Andres Campusano is the supervising technician for the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. He says crews hand-dug specific trails to avoid disturbing asbestos-laden rock. And the work didn't stop there.

"These trails here can be pretty steep, there's a lot of ranch roads," Campusano explained. "So we did hand build one section of trail that eliminated the steepest section of the of the ranch roads."

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The result is access to a steep open space that can be covered with native wildflowers in spring. The area is home to the Bay Checkerspot butterfly and other unique species, some endangered, others simply magnificent.

"The wildlife I've seen out here is burrowing owls, golden eagles, bald eagles, tule elk, coyotes, bobcats," Campusano said.

But if the Open Space is colorful, so is its history. Tucked back in the hills is the site of United Technologies. The aerospace company once built and tested rocket engines for NASA and the military. After a destructive explosion, the company eventually closed the site, providing a historic opportunity.

"And so it took conservationists negotiating with United Technologies as they started to close down operations here to get this property transferred from what was a Cold War relic into a conservation success story," general manager Andrea Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie says the area is unique for other reasons, including its geography. Located across from the similarly named Coyote Valley, the areas provide a critical link for wildlife migrating between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range.

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"People don't realize that Santa Cruz in the Santa Cruz Mountains has become almost an island, an isolated island, where tons of creatures like mountain lions do not have room to roam," she said. "They become stuck there in the Santa Cruz Mountains and genetically isolated which is bad news for the population."

As crews work to put the finishing touches on shade stations and other installations, the Authority is preparing to open the Coyote Ridge to the public. They say some areas are so ecologically sensitive they'll require visitors to register for special access butterfly passes and use precautions like spraying their shoes. But the reward will be five miles of hiking trails, winding through a unique and critical habitat.

"These lands belong to you. They belong to the public," Mackenzie said. "You helped us purchase them, you will hike on them, you will take care of them. And we hope when you come out here to enjoy your newest preserve, you will enjoy it with wonder and respect and awe because this is part of our future."

An open space with a fascinating past, and exciting future for visitors. Coyote Ridge will open to the public this Thursday. It will also be known by its indigenous name: Mayyan Ooyakma in the Chochenyo language.

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