Mount Um fi­nally open — and it’s spectacular

Gaze in amaze­ment. Breathe deeply. Ex­pe­ri­ence the escape — above the hurly burly in the mag­nif­i­cent seren­ity that only a safe perch on a pin­na­cle in the sky can in­spire. Cel­e­brate.

The Mercury News - - Opin­ion -

On Mon­day, fi­nally, Mount Umunhum — the South Bay’s equiv­a­lent of Mount Di­ablo and Mount Ta­mal­pais — opens to all. Come and hike, learn about the moun­tain’s 10,000 year his­tory and take in the sweep­ing views of the Mon­terey Bay, San Fran­cisco Bay and far be­yond. Some­times, on the very clear­est of days, you can glimpse the Sierra Ne­vada.

Fi­nally. It seems like it’s taken for­ever. But it is so worth the wait.

In 1986 the Mid­penin­sula Re­gional Open Space Dis­trict bought the for­mer Cold War Air Force base at the top of Mount Um. (Get used to it; it’s our Mount Tam.) That was the easy part.

Then came deal­ing with the as­bestos-lined, lead-painted ru­ins of the base that Mid­pen had no money to clean up; the crum­bling road that wound up the 3,486-foot-tall moun­tain, and — le­gend has it — the moun­tain dwellers whose idea of a neigh­borly hello to vis­i­tors might be a shot­gun blast.

To Mid­pen’s gen­eral man­ager and board at the time, the prop­erty seemed more of an al­ba­tross than an as­set. But when Steve Ab­bors took over as man­ager in 2008, he rec­og­nized the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by one of the high­est moun­tain­tops in the Santa Cruz Moun­tains, and he set about open­ing it to the pub­lic.

He should be so very proud to­day.

Mike Honda also should take a bow. As a con­gress­man in 2009, back in the day of ear­marks, Honda, with the help of Rep. Zoe Lof­gren, fought for and won $3.2 mil­lion to de­mol­ish build­ings and clean up the old base. Mount Um to­day could be the most vis­i­ble legacy of Honda’s Wash­ing­ton ca­reer.

From there, Mid­pen al­lo­cated money from a 2014 bond mea­sure and ul­ti­mately spent $25 mil­lion on the road and park. It shows. The fa­cil­i­ties at the top — ex­hibits about the Ohlones, ge­og­ra­phy, wildlife — are first class.

And “The Cube” is still there. Whew.

Ab­bors, his board and some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists had hoped to re­move the mas­sive and, let’s just ad­mit, ugly radar tower and re­turn the moun­tain to its nat­u­ral state. But Basim Jaber and other de­fend­ers of the Cold War relic rec­og­nized its value, com­mem­o­rat­ing the 1960s and 70s era when Air Force fam­i­lies lived at the base and kept vigil for Rus­sian bombers.

The Cube ul­ti­mately was de­clared an his­toric land­mark, en­sur­ing its sur­vival. Ab­bors and Mid­pen’s board ac­cepted this with grace.

We’re glad it worked out be­cause the tower is his­toric, but also be­cause it’s a true land­mark — a mem­o­rable sight — and the South Bay has so few. Even though Mount Um doesn’t tower over its neigh­bors, we al­ways can iden­tify it from the val­ley floor. It’s the one with The Cube.

But don’t set­tle for that view. Go there. Gaze. Breathe. And cel­e­brate. It’s beau­ti­ful.

And it’s ours.

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