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Editorial: Winter is excellent time to visit Henry W. Coe State Park

Published in the Dec. 21, 2016 – January 3, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

During the holiday season, we give children gifts to show our love. Nearly 70 years ago, Sada Coe Robinson gave a gift that still enriches the lives of children and adults.

On Aug. 15, 1953, the woman generously donated her Pine Ridge Ranch to Santa Clara County to be transformed into a wilderness park named in memory of her father, Henry W. Coe. It was the county’s first public park and the administration did not know what to do with it. East Dunne Avenue was a winding dirt road cutting through the mountain range and members of the public adventurous enough to travel up it often found the county park’s gate locked, preventing them from discovering the wonderland of wilderness beyond the barrier.

The county did not want the Pine Ridge property. In 1958, it sold the land to the state of California for a token sum of $10. Over the years, it accumulated more property to become the second largest state park in California. Henry W. Coe State Park covers nearly 90,000 of mountain chaparral terrain. Nearly three times the size of San Francisco, it draws more than 50,000 visitors a year. Most come from the Bay Area, but many travel from as far away as Asia and Europe to explore this amazing wilderness.

The spring months are an especially popular time for visitors to explore Coe Park. They see wildflowers blooming across the rolling hills and take photos of birds and other creatures that make their home there. It’s a recreational haven for many people who come for a leisurely day hike or an intense overnight backpacking jaunt deep into the wilderness to do some fishing in one of Coe’s several lakes. The park is regionally recognized as a mountain biking destination for those who want a challenge. Its many trails are also popular for equestrian use. And trees and rocks have become popular places to hide and find treasures for geocaching buffs. The park is especially popular with families who bring kids to fun annual events such as the Backcountry Weekend, the Tarantula Fest, the Mother’s Day Breakfast or Ranch Days.

During the winter months, the park can be an especially tranquil place to visit. For those seeking solitude and a connection of the spirit with the natural world, this time of the year makes Coe Park an especially good place for several hours of hiking — or just finding a rock outcropping along the trail to sit and meditate or think. It’s one of the activities Sada would advocate. At the dedication of the park, she said of the terrain her hopes that “from out of the hills would come the peace of one’s soul and food for the power of thought.”

California has received several heavy rain storms in the past few weeks. That means the hills at Coe Park are turning verdant as grass and wildflowers appear. The creeks and rivers surge with a vigorous flow of water. This time of year is especially worth visiting the park because of a lack of crowds. It’s especially good for children to introduce them to an appreciation of a place rich in primal grandeur. There are several trails at Coe Park that are excellent for young people. These include the Forest Trail located a short walk from the Coe Visitors Center at the eastern end of East Dunne Avenue. The three-mile Hunting Hallow Trail off Roop Road in the southern section of the state park is a fun hike through a canyon accented with wildflowers and a meandering creek.

For children who might have an interest in science, we suggest a night-time visit to the park. When the skies are clear and you’re far from city lights, the stars fill the blackness with jaw-dropping intensity. Download a constellation app on your smart phone and help your children discover the various star clusters and learn about ancient mythological heroes and creatures.

Some people tell us they’re reluctant to visit Coe Park because they feel intimidated by the thought of stepping into the wilderness. “What if I get attacked by a mountain lion?” is a frequent question from these people. It’s unlikely you’ll encounter one of these magnificent cats — and consider yourself lucky if you chance to see one at a safe distance in the park. If you prefer to explore the park with people who are knowledgeable about all it offers, the Pine Ridge Association, the nonprofit group of volunteers who help keep the park open throughout the year, offers various meet-up hikes. Visit the parks website at coepark.net/pineridgeassociation.com and look under the “Program & Events” tab to find the meet-ups link.

With 2017 nearly here, we encourage everyone to make a New Year’s resolution to visit this wondrous park in the winter and discover its wonders. With her donation of her family’s ranch, Sada Coe gave a gift that is one everyone should upwrap and discover — and find a greater appreciation for our natural heritage.