Hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers will soon have trails of their own in the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area.
After years of planning, the local office of the California Parks and Recreation Department broke ground last year on a 25-mile series of non-motorized trails that will span both sides of Cienega Road. According to California Parks Senior Environmental Scientist Wes Gray, the first phase is expected to be open to the public in late May and the second phase will be completed next year.
“It has been a lot of work,” Gray said, explaining that the new park was one of the first projects he was assigned when he joined the local California Parks office five years ago.
The first phase of the new park will feature 15 miles of trails, a restroom facility and graveled parking lot large enough to accommodate horse trailers. This development comes at the cost of few thousand dollars, Gray said, which will be paid from the $4 million the Hollister OHV park receives from the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund each year, collected from state dirt bike registration fees as well as a small portion of gas tax collected from travelers in California.
Visitors will also be asked to pay a $5 day use fee to help defray the cost of maintenance, but Gray said he was also be relying on the park’s 40 volunteers to keep the new trails in shape too.
The new hiking trails are completely fenced off from the motorized, park, Gray said, adding that three rangers currently live on site to supervise the new trails as well.
The idea for the new trails began in the 1990s, when the local office of the California Parks and Recreation Department purchased an additional 3,000 acres that sat between the Hollister Hills Vehicular Recreation Area and the closest homes and farms. The intention was to expand the existing off-road vehicle park Gray said.
However, a lawsuit brought by neighbors who objected to the idea of motorcycles so close to their properties led to a requirement for the state to leave a buffer zone of approximately 1,500 acres between the neighboring properties and the HOV park. The state soon settled on a new vision to utilize the land it acquired and began planning for approximately 25 miles of non-motorized trails for horse-back riders, hikers and mountain bikers.
According to Gray, the community was very enthusiastic about the plan for miles of new non-motorized trails when he presented the idea to the public during three San Benito County Parks and Recreation Commission meetings.
Despite the vast amount of open space in San Benito County, much of the land is privately owned, Gray said, so residents were happy to have new trails available to them. This is especially true of the San Benito High School cross-county runners and mountain bikes, he added, since the school is just down the road from the entrance to the new trails.
Some neighbors did have concerns about privacy, Gray said, but park developers have carefully planned the trail to curve away from spots where hikers might be able to see into nearby backyards. Current agreements with local farmers to graze their cattle on the grassland land around the trails will continue, Gray added.
The plan for the new trails also had to be vetted for its environmental impacts. Gray said he spent many work hours putting together a required Environmental Impact Report that addressed how developers would plan the path of the trails around the habitat of endangered species native to the area such as the Tiger Salamander and ground squirrel.
Gray added that the trails should provide nature lovers with a wonderful opportunity to see native wildlife, including birds, deer, bobcat and foxes.
The new trail is expected to open on May 22. Visit the park’s Facebook page for further details.