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The best-kept recreational and educational secret in San Benito County is the San Benito County Historical Park (SBCHP), located at 8300 Highway 25, one mile south of Tres Pinos. Set on 35 acres of bucolic, shade-tree-dotted countryside next to Tres Pinos Creek, with six acres of county historical exhibits, the park is the perfect place for a family reunion, a picnic lunch, or a leisurely stroll around the grounds.

In the historical village, a project of the San Benito County Historical Society, you can step back in time to visit an old schoolhouse, a dance hall, a firehouse, a bar, a livery stable and barn, and view just about every antique farm implement known to mankind. Currently under construction is an indoor model train track that includes a replica of the Hollister-Tres Pinos line, which was used to haul hay from the southern end of San Benito County into the “big city.” Future plans call for a local indigenous people’s exhibit with a scaled version of an Amah Mutsun village, along with appropriate tribal educational materials.

In the spacious, shady group picnic areas, you will find tables and barbeque grills, support stands for volleyball nets, a playscape for the little ones, and plenty of open areas for games and parties. You can reserve group space for events in the picnic areas as well as in the dance hall or arrange for tours of the historical village by following the directions on the SBCHP website.

For hikers, the park currently has a mile and a quarter of trails, with more to come. Existing trails can be extended with excursions along Tres Pinos Creek to hunt for fossils and to spy on abundant cottontails, jackrabbits, quail, and other small animals. As recently as the last weekend in July, there was still ample water flowing in the creek, which, of course, is unusual for this time of year. Water attracts birds of all kinds, so bring your binoculars and see how many different species you can identify. But first, drink in the far-ranging vistas from the freshly-graded upper trail above the village.

Start your hike at the south end of the park at the trailhead near the red corral. Follow the “hiker” signs and heed warnings to beware of possible rattlesnakes in this less-visited part of the park. Keep Fido or Fida on a leash and as a courtesy to everyone else, pick up after him or her as necessary. The trail leads you up a short, steep-ish hill behind the village to several outstanding views of the park and Tres Pinos Creek below, as well as beautiful, long vistas of the rolling foothills of the Diablo Range. Looking to the northeast, you will see the top of Santa Ana Peak poking up its extinct volcanic head in the background.

After looping around the upper trail, pass the back of the Ferrando barn and circle around to the front. You are now in the historical village. Head straight, past a most interesting Peddler’s Wagon and many rusty, well-used farm implements, and step over the cable barrier into Group Area One. A nature trail is planned for this locale, but it is easy and safe to walk here as it is. Follow the fence line north as far as it goes, stopping short of a small bluff overlooking Tres Pinos Creek.

Last winter’s wild storms altered the path of the creek here, eroding the cut banks and slicing out an entire section of the park’s access road. Group Area Two was significantly damaged, illustrating the awesome power of flowing water and reminding us that Ma Nature is ultimately still in charge. Stop for a minute here and listen to the enchanting sounds of the flowing creek. That magic rhythm is soul-soothing and good for what ails you.

If you want to explore the creek, follow the cut bank around to where the road used to be and find an easy way to scramble down to the water. Otherwise, just wind your way over to the gravel road and walk south past the park entrance to the right hand turn toward the historical village. Enter the village and follow your nose to visit the schoolhouse and the dance hall and all the rest. I would say it is more fun just to wander around to whatever piques your interest rather than to proceed in any prescribed order – it is always best to allow for a modicum of serendipity in any adventure, don’t you think? To complete the walk, head back to the trailhead the way you came.

This is a pleasant, simple stroll that almost everyone can do. Jogging strollers for infants and sturdy wheelchairs for those who need them can be used on all but the steepest parts of the upper trail. Individuals using walkers to ambulate may find the upper trail and the outer gravel road sections too difficult, but I think the flat historic village portion of the walk would be okay. Enjoy your park. It’s a blast!

And please my friends, do not litter.

The San Benito County Historical Park is open daily during daylight hours. Gates are closed at dusk. There is a modest $3 day-use fee payable at the “iron ranger” just past the bridge after you enter.

For a location map to the park from downtown Hollister, please click here.