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.
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.