San Mateo County Parks Department acquiring additional land to expand public access to parks 

Imagine a park system where people can ride a horse or mountain bike from Pacifica to Santa Cruz, or follow the footsteps of the 1769 Portola expedition from Half Moon Bay to Monterey.

That’s the vision of San Mateo County Parks Department Director Marlene Finley, who is in the process of acquiring more property for the Peninsula’s park system to provide expanded recreational access and long-term stewardship within the county’s parklands.

“I want to have a world-class park system,” said Finley, who leads the Parks Department, which has a budget of approximately $10.4 million and oversees 20 parks encompassing more than 16,000 acres.

“By adding more property to county parks,” she said, “we are able to provide additional public access and enjoyment.”

The department is currently in escrow for three county properties — Loma Mar, Butano Crest East and Wicklow, totaling 812 acres — with closing dates on or before June 30.

All three land acquisitions — including one purchase and two transfers — were reached with the support of the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST).

“We are witnessing an amazing collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries of State Parks, Golden Gate National Recreational Area, POST, county parks and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and many others to preserve the past, protect for the future and provide for recreation and appreciation,” Finley said.

POST officials praised the deal as an opportunity to provide public access to new park sites in the county.

“San Mateo County parks is an agency that we know … will do an excellent job managing these properties and opening the Peninsula’s unique landscape to not only residents, but also visitors worldwide to enjoy,” POST Executive Director Walter Moore said.

The first property the Parks Department plans to take on is Loma Mar, a 174-acre parcel in the Pescadero Creek watershed near Memorial County Park, Heritage Grove and Sam McDonald County Park. The site is being purchased from the San Mateo County Office of Education for about $3.9 million.

The property is also surrounded by land that is owned by the county, which has managed land within the watershed for 90 years.

“We are looking forward to making this area more accessible to the public within a year of the acquisition,” Finley said. Park officials are also touting the addition of the 478-acre Wicklow property to the 40-acre Quarry Park in El Granada. The Wicklow area consists of forest, coastal ridges and grassy hillsides that will continue to provide open space for people to picnic, walk dogs, ride bikes and enjoy the trail system.

The county agreed to accept the transfer of Wicklow land as a gift from POST and is expected to complete the transaction within the next three months.

A second land transfer from POST for expanded park space is the remote Butano Crest East within the Pescadero Creek watershed. The 160-acre parcel, which is surrounded by Pescadero Creek County Park and near Portola Redwoods State Park, is known for its chaparral, open grassland and redwoods and was acquired by POST for protection through the Heart of the Redwoods Campaign. Once transferred to the Parks Department, Butano Crest East “will continue to be managed for open space, wildlife habitat and public recreation,” Finley said.

With the acquisition of the three parcels, the Parks Department will first work on studying the areas’ natural and cultural resources in an effort to be “good land stewards,” Finley said.

She says the department is also planning to learn about existing public recreational uses that are compatible with resource management and protection.

Some of the projects staff members are already discussing include continued fire fuel reduction, open access for emergency vehicles such as wildland fire response, new signage for trailheads and creating new maps that show expanded boundaries.

“We are leaving a legacy in San Mateo County for the next generations,” Finley said.

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