New Acquisition: The Pea property, 228 acres on the southern boundary of Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, brings the preserve to a total of 4,334 acres. The land surrounds an unnamed stream that is part of the headwaters of Llagas Creek. The hilly terrain is characterized by oak and bay woodland and forms a quiet ravine providing valuable wildlife habitat. The northern portion of the property may be connected in the future to other Cañada del Oro trails.
New Acquisition: Coyote Scenic Lands on the western edge of Coyote Valley comprises 348 acres of wooded foothills, seasonal streams and grasslands. The land is visible from the valley floor, contributing to both viewshed protection and the greenbelt between Morgan Hill and San Jose. A number of special-status species are known to occur here, including bay checkerspot butterfly, Opler’s longhorn moth, golden eagle, Santa Clara Valley dudleya, smooth lessingia, and most beautiful jewelflower.
New Acquisition: The Davis property, a small purchase on the southern boundary of Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve, brings the preserve to a total of 4,106 acres. The land is characterized by the oak woodlands, chaparral-covered hillsides and grassy slopes that are familiar to Rancho visitors. Edson and Twin Fall canyons cross the property, and Twin Fall Creek flows through the southern portion, providing valuable riparian habitat.
Total Acres: 6,412
Total Expenditures: $28,757,698
The western watershed study area encompasses the eastern slopes and foothills of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. It runs from Mount Madonna County Park in the south to the boundary of Santa Clara County in the west. Almaden Quicksilver and Santa Teresa county parks lie just outside the area’s northern boundary.
Ridges and steep canyons dominate the area’s landscape. Authority lands surround Fern Peak and Mount Chual. Baldy Canyon runs through Rancho Cañada del Oro and Manzanita Ridge lies east of the preserve. Croy Ridge and Murphy Canyon are dominant features in the southern portion of the study area. Much of the region was included in the Pueblo Lands of San Jose during the Mexican period and has a long ranching history. Early residents raised stock, maintained orchards and farmed. Local timber found its way into the quicksilver smelters and tunnels at New Almaden, located just to the north. A limestone quarry also was operated in the area.
Branches of three important streams originate in the area. Cherry Creek flows into Calero Reservoir which ultimately feeds the Guadalupe River and drains into San Francisco Bay. Llagas Creek in the central portion of the study area and Uvas Creek to the south both flow toward the Pajaro River and its drainage in the Pacific Ocean.
Protected lands within the study area include Rancho Cañada del Oro Preserve and other Open Space Authority properties as well as four county parks: Calero, Uvas Canyon, Uvas Reservoir and Chesbro Reservoir.
Longwall Canyon Trail
Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve
The properties that together form Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve represent the Authority’s most significant acquisitions in the western watershed. Beginning in 2000 with the purchase of 641 acres, OSA has put together a 4,334-acre preserve where hundreds of plant and animal species make their homes.
The first acquisition included the north slope of Fern Peak and the watershed of upper Cherry Creek. An area of very little human disturbance, the hills and valleys shelter raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, wild pigs, deer and cougars. Golden eagles, Cooper’s hawks and great horned owls have been observed there. Springs and ponds offer habitat for the California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii), a species federally listed as threatened. Purchase of an additional 728 acres directly southwest of Calero County Park opened the possibility of extending trails for the public. Its higher elevations provide spectacular views of Santa Clara Valley, the Diablo Range and undisturbed landscapes within the western foothills. Besides chaparral and oak woodlands, the property also includes patches of rare and important serpentine grasslands.
High concentrations of magnesium compared to available calcium, the presence of heavy metals and few plant nutrients make serpentine soils inhospitable to most plants. Those that thrive make up a unique community which includes several state and federally listed plants. The bay checkerspot butterfly (Euphydras editha bayensis), federally listed as threatened in 1987, finds its primary support plant, dwarf plantain (Plantago erecta), only in serpentine grasslands.
The purchase in 2008 of Blair Ranch, 865 acres lying immediately south of the existing preserve, added important serpentine grassland to OSA’s protected lands. This acquisition also extends protection of the Uvas and Llagas creek watersheds, which drain into the Pajaro River, recognized as one of the most threatened in the United States.
The largest portion of the preserve was added in 2003 when the Open Space Authority took over 1,484 acres of the 2,428-acre Crummerland Ranch. This acquisition, a collaboration among Peninsula Open Space Trust, Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation, the City of San Jose and OSA, enabled the expansion of Calero County Park as well as Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve.
The year-round environment of Llagas Creek, which flows through a significant portion of the property, supports two species of special concern, foothill yellow-legged frog (Rana boylii) and western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata), as well as California red-legged frogs.
Ladybugs in Uvas Creek
Uvas Creek Properties
Also in the western watershed, the Open Space Authority owns 1,165 acres of open space surrounding Uvas Creek. The lands lie directly north of Uvas Canyon County Park, offering the possibility of creating an extended regional trail network. The lands are also included in the potential Bay Area Ridge Trail alignment.
Loma Prieta, the highest point in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 3,786 feet, is located northwest of the Authority properties. The headwaters of Uvas Creek drain the mountain’s slopes, providing high-quality aquatic habitat for steelhead trout, newts, and other species. Deer trails are common and the region is an active mountain lion habitat.
The Authority began its acquisitions in 2001 with three separate purchases totaling 568 acres. From the riparian corridor along Uvas Creek, a succession of habitats rise up the slopes, including oak woodland, knobcone pine and interior live oak.
Acquisitions from 2003 to 2006 added 577 acres to the west. A small purchase in 2007 closed the gap between the Authority’s protected open space and lands to the northwest preserved by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Along with watershed lands owned by San Jose Water Company, these holdings represent the largest contiguous open space in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains.
Mount Chual Properties
The Open Space Authority has purchased 461 acres in the Mt. Chual area including the summit of Mt. Chual itself. At 3,562 feet this is the third highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains and is located just northeast of Loma Prieta.
The name of the mountain first appeared on a Mexican-era map of New Almaden in 1848 as Picacho de Chual. The name refers in Spanish to the edible plant, Chenopodium album, the common pigweed or lamb's quarters. Had the named appeared in English, the mountain might be known today as Pigweed Peak.
The rugged terrain of these OSA properties includes headwaters of both the Almaden and Uvas Creek watersheds. Plant communities most common on these high-elevation slopes are manzanita and sage and chaparral scrub. The peaks in the region, including Mt. Chual, are characterized by communications sites and panoramic views of the Diablo Range.