Mount Umunhum opens to the public
MT. UMUNHUM >> On a mountain peak long off-limits to the public, officials gathered on Saturday for a rare and breathtaking sight: a 360-degree view of the San Francisco Bay Area from Mount Umunhum, our newest jewel in the region’s park system.
Leaders of the civic, environmental and Native American communities streamed to the top of the 3,486-foot mountain, celebrating and snapping photos of a destination that has been 37 years and $25 million in the making.
Its opening marks a new chapter for Midpeninsula Open Space District’s park system and a signal moment for a landscape that has played a major role in local history.
In a region that is in so many ways defined by its mountains — Mount Hamilton, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais — this peak has been frustratingly out of reach.
But that changes at 7 a.m. Monday, when the gates will open and visitors can start checking out the 12-acre mountaintop park, located within the 18,000-acre Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve south of Los Gatos.
At a lunch and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, Steve Abhors, general manager of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, called the opening a “spectacular” day. The project had been a long time coming and was full of setbacks, but it was worth the wait, he said.
“We dedicate this to the people of the Bay Area — past, present and future,” Abhors said. “We’re here to celebrate the completion of an incredible journey to get, clean up, restore and open it for everyone to explore.”
The prominent peak had been set to open last October, but the opening was postponed because of construction delays, increased costs and fierce winter
storms that delivered galeforce winds and 110 inches of rain.
Midpen bought the land for a mere $260,000 in 1986. About $25 million and 31 years later, it is reborn. Federal funding in 2009 helped restore the peak.
The passage of Santa Clara County’s Measure AA in 2014 provided funding to complete the $15.8 million public access portion of the project, including road and trail improvements, parking areas and weather shelters.
The peak shaped many generations of Bay Area residents, from the Native Americans and U.S. Air Force personnel who scanned the skies for enemy planes to former Silicon Valley Congressman Mike Honda, who as a youth rode his motorcycle along its rough mountain roads — and as an elected leader in Washington, D.C., secured $3.2 million in federal funding to clean up the site.
“Thank you for having the foresight to put this together and link it with trails in the valley,” he told the crowd. “You are really going to enjoy a return on your investment.”
One trail that starts at Bald Mountain takes hikers to the summit. Another trail connects to the 375-mile-long Bay Area Ridge Trail. When the 550mile Ridge Trail is complete, it will create a loop from Sonoma to Gilroy.
But nonhikers can drive to the summit, park and enjoy the vista. (Allow about an hour to get there; the road is steep and windy.)
In a place where big projects seem to drag on indefinitely, the opening felt momentous.
The arc of the mountain’s history is long, spanning hundreds of generations of indigenous peoples, Abhors said.
Then it saw the appearance of the missions in the valley below, and later the efforts of European settlers to eke out a living growing fruits on its flanks.
In the 1950s, the mountain’s top was leveled and terraced to become a bustling Air Force station of 220 service personnel and their families, scanning the western horizon for Russian bombers.
It witnessed the development of technologies that gave birth to Silicon Valley.
What will you see when you visit?
If skies are clear, you can take in views from Napa wine country to the north, the Monterey Peninsula to the south, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Pacific Ocean to the west and, if you’re lucky, the Sierra to the east.
At the summit, you’ll see plaques that explain the natural and cultural history. There’s a ceremonial circle created for Native American people and their guests to gather and pray.
You’ll see “The Cube,” a five-story concrete radar tower building that sits atop the summit, a relic of the peak’s role in the Cold War.
While the building has been preserved, it is not open because major repairs are needed.
You might see swallows and Purple Martins duck and dive after midges. Perhaps, someday, you’ll see a California condor.
“It took a while for all of us to arrive at this historic moment,” said Abhors.
“For us at Midpen, it has been 31 years since we purchased the former Almaden Air Force Station from the U.S. government.
For Chuck Skinner, the last commander of that Air Force Station, it has been 37 years since they left after the station closed. For Val Lopez and the Amah Mutsun people, it has been 200 years since their culture was dismantled and separated from their sacred mountain.”
“But we’re all here now and it’s a time to rejoice and really enjoy the mountain,” Abhors said.
Gates open at 7 a.m. and close at sunset. You can park at Bald Mountain and hike up to the summit, or park in one of the summit’s 60 spaces and hike down to Bald Mountain.
As the iconic radar tower provides a backdrop, visitors take in the view Saturday at the new public space atop Mount Umunhum east of Los Gatos. The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District spent $25million over eight years on the project.
Officials cut the ribbon during the opening ceremony.
Mount Umunhum, a 3,486-foot peak in the Santa Cruz mountains, has views of Napa, Monterey and the Pacific Ocean.