Sports & Recreation

State’s first off-highway recreation area marks 40th anniversary

Hollister Hills SVRA's 40th anniversary showcased free OHV activities and historical photos and artifacts from the Harris family
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Ann Marie Sayers at a local event in 2015. File Photo.

The Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, California State Parks' first SVRA, celebrated its 40th anniversary Oct. 10 with day-long activities for off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders of all ages and their families.

Hollister Hills SVRA in the Gabilan Mountains has more than 6,800 acres of picturesque and varied terrain ideal for OHVs of all types and different skill levels. Up north are the Upper Ranch and Hudner Ranch for 4-wheel vehicles. To the south are the Lower Ranch and Renz Ranch for motorcycles and ATVs.

On Saturday, there were discounted camping fees and no fees for parking. There were also campfire, nature walk and ranger activities for the young. For the rest of the family, there were OHV poker-runs, tune-up tips, and exhibits of vintage and unusual motorcycles and World War II era jeeps and trucks.

But to many event visitors and locals, the most entertaining aspect was the Olden Days Chats in the morning. Ann Marie Sayers began it by welcoming everybody to “Ohlone (Indian) territory.”

Born seven miles away in Indian Canyon, she acknowledged former Hollister Hills SVRA land owner Howard Harris, who gave some Native Americans access to the area. Sayers explained that before the 1978 American Religious Freedom Act, the 1887 Indian Allotment Act only allowed Native Americans access to “only three percent of the land.” She also added, “Harris was the only family that communicated with the Indians.”

When it was their turn for Olden Days Chat, fifth-generation descendants Glenn and Donald Harris (without their brother Marvin) held the visitors captive with a presentation about Hollister Hills SVRA when it was still Harris Ranch.

Glenn did most of the talking, complete with old photos and Native American arrowheads, stone tools and sharp edges, limestone pestle and mortar, and basket weaves with black ink trims from poison oak in the area.

He said, “There’s a lot of history here.” And there were many tales to tell. Their dad, Howard Harris’s name is synonymous with the county’s history from the turn of the 20th Century well into the 1980s. Their great-great grandfather, Jesse Whitton, was a surveyor who rode with the third expedition of John Fremont in 1845.

The colorful Fremont was a military officer, politician and explorer who took part in the war that took California away from Mexico. Fremont gained his wealth in the Gold Rush and was a governor for Arizona.

Howard Harris is known for his work at the Farm Bureau, whose building now bears his name, water rights disputes, deep community involvement and mechanical harvesting equipment. Glenn related that his parents as well as Donald and he worked in the fields. It took a crew of 15 to 20 Mexicans six weeks to pick walnuts and process the harvest, he said. Howard developed a mechanized process that did these in six hours. Glenn’s dad also owned and operated Howard Harris Motorcycle Playground at the ranch. Howard’s invaluable experience helped shape future SVRAs before he sold his estate to the state in 1975.

Glenn delighted visitors with his own historical potboilers liberally sprinkled with names like Kit Carson, Commander Robert Stockton, Consul Thomas Larkin and General Stephen Kearney — names that are now street or city names or in the public domain.

He also said Whitton “is probably the first American to own a piece of property” and that Whitton “was always in the hand-picked group wherever Fremont went.” But Glenn was not sure where Whitton was when Fremont broke his group and one went to Nevada. But, he said, “Whitton was the first to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert through the Hastings Cut-off.”

Glenn revealed by-gone things that can only be imagined: “a variety of 16-pound apples used mainly for cooking, an oak tree the size of three cars near where Fremont’s party camped, and the big business of baled hay that was shipped mostly to Kentucky for horse races.”

He shared numerous old photos (from 1870 to 1890) in a slide presentation. Even with high-resolution technology, the photos showed their age. But there was enough clarity to view names that were only in history texts come to life in pictures of daily life and family activities: Marion Crow, Casse Crow, Ella Whitton and others. The camera’s favorite was beauteous Emma Whitton, who posed for horse rides, picnics, farm and vineyard work. She was also caught on frame eating watermelon, masquerading as a nun and bathing at Carmel.

There were also photos of the original house (in 1970) where Emma lived before it was torn down, of Casse driving a horse-drawn cart where Highway 101 would someday be built, topographical layouts of the farm showing the sycamores still standing and two riders sitting in a tunnel car of the Hollister Coal Company, which was found out to be a fraudulent enterprise.

Former Hollister Hills Superintendent Dan Dungy started in that role in 1990 and spent seven years running the park’s operation until he left in 2004. With a tough act to follow, Dungy could only express his fondness for Hollister Hills.

“When I worked in San Mateo, it took me 10 minutes to figure out the day’s agenda. Here, everybody has a suggestion how to improve the park. It made my work easy,” he said. "The park users here pulled me in. I call them park owners. Hollister Hills is the best nonprofit in the state park system.”

California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commissioners Kevin Murphy and Paul Slavik, Hollister Hills Off Road Association President Des Hughes, San Benito County District 4 Supervisor Jerry Muenzer, among others, expressed their gratitude for the hard working staff of volunteer and county employees and expressed well wishes to generations of OHV riders.

California Off-highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division Deputy Director Christopher Conlin accepted a commemorative certificate from Sen. Anthony Canella’s office. A raffle drawing followed.

Among the participants who set up booths for the event were: Central Coast RUTS (Riders Under the Son), Esprit De Four 4-wheel Drive Club, Silva Sausage, Fox Racing, Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of California State Parks, Faultline Powersports, Orchard RV, Santa Clara Riders Unlimited, Morris Grassfed Beef (T.O. Cattle Company), Calstar, San Benito County Search and Rescue, Military Vehicle Collectors of California, Mountain Transit Authority, 40+ Motorcycle Club, Hammerhead Designs, Hollister Hills Off-Road Association, Dunlop Tires,California Off-Road Vehicle Association, and R & K Kettle Corn.

Harvey Barkin

Harvey Barkin is a Freelance Journalist and Technical Writer. His stories have appeared in various media.