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Starting the year with a county park hike to appreciate natural wonders

About a dozen hikers — including 90-year-old woman — enjoy Coyote Lake Park New Years Day

Published in the January 18 – January 31, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo by Marty Cheek
Mike Monroe leads hikers along the Mummy Mountain Trail New Year’s Day morning.

New Year’s Day morning found a dozen or so people tromping along the rain-damp trails of Coyote Lake County Park. Among them was 90-year-old Morgan Hill resident Margaret Johnston, pushing herself along through the oak-studded terrain using her hiking sticks.

After about an hour of leisurely sauntering, the hikers arrived at their destination — a simple bench overlooking the entire South Valley. It was inscribed with a simple plaque: “Donated in Honor of Margaret Turgeon Johnston, October 2, 2016.” It is popularly known as “Margaret’s Bench.” With Johnston sitting in the center, the group posed for a photo to mark the moment.

The Jan. 1 hike was led by Gilroy resident and Morgan Hill businessman Mike Monroe, who writes the monthly “Take a Hike” column for Morgan Hill Life. A docent for the Santa Clara County Parks Department, he wanted to help local nature-lovers start off 2017 with a hike along the Mummy Mountain trail at Coyote Lake County Park to show appreciation for the natural wonders of the Silicon Valley region.

Monroe encourages all Gilroy, San Martin and Morgan Hill residents to join him throughout the year in guided hikes and explore other areas.

“We want to get everyone outside to enjoy the wealth of natural experiences that we have,” Monroe said. “We have redwoods on one side of the South Valley and rolling oak-dotted hills on the other side. It’s really a very special place that we live in.”

He especially encourages families with children to join the upcoming hikes and give the youngsters a fun way to learn about the wonders of the natural world.

Margaret Johnston hikes a trail with South Valley in the background.
Photo by Marty Cheek

“Once they have a taste of it, they’ll keep coming back,” he said. “I think there’s a real potential for kids to engage in parks and help keep the natural world healthy. If they’re exposed to open space by their parents, if there are issues of natural park lands, they’ll be supportive of maintaining that.”

In an age when many children become obsessed with digital gadgets, it’s important to put these devices into perspective and turn them off for a while. Monroe admits to carrying a smart phone on hikes so he can get instant Internet access to information about a tree or animal he might have seen. But the primary goal is to step into the great outdoors and not let the technology distract from the experience of connecting with nature in South Valley parks.

“I don’t think that technology is a bad thing. I do believe, however, that it does cause some over stimulation. Something as subtle as being outside sometimes loses its luster compared to the all the bells and whistles that we have with our technology,” he said. “There is a time and place for having the technology.”

With 28 county parks, Santa Clara County has an abundance of local options to explore and discover nature. Many parks have handicapped access and terrain that is easy for people with physical limitations to maneuver through. In the Diablo Range east of Gilroy, many residents visit Henry W. Coe State Park to discover the ecology in nearly 90,000 acres of wilderness terrain once used for cattle ranching. The Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve a few miles north of Morgan Hill offers 348 acres of hills and canyons to explore.

The Jan. 1 hiking group poses for a photo on “Margaret’s Bench.”
Photo by Marty Cheek

“We are very fortunate in where we live,” Monroe said. “I like having the ability to leave my home and within 15 minutes or so I can be at Mt. Madonna, or Anderson Lake or Coyote Lake. The more times I go, the more things I see.”

People sometimes ask Monroe if he gets tired of taking hikes in the same parks over and over again. He tells them that every time he takes a hike in one of the local parks he frequently visits, he has a new experience because the environment changes with the seasons — or with his own state of mind.

“It’s not like that. Maybe you’re with someone else or by yourself, you see something you haven’t seen before,” he said.

Silicon Valley has lost much of its land to development over the decades as more people move here to work and raise families. Many orchards and ranches are gone forever, now the sites of industrial parks and housing divisions. But the leaders in the 1960s and ’70s had the vision to preserve the natural land with parks and preserves in order to maintain the quality of life here, Monroe said.

“I really think the county has been very wise and smart in investing in park lands throughout the area of Santa Clara County,” he said. “Just because you live in a metropolitan area, still you’re not far away from a good park. It’s something to be proud of.”

UPCOMING HIKES

February: Uvas Creek Preserve
March: Harvey Bear County Park
April: Coyote Creek Trail
May: Kellogg Springs
Email Mike Monroe at mike.valleyofheartsdelight@gmail.com for dates