October 30, 2002
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
P.O. Box 5381
Oakland, California 94605-0381
Re: Ohlone Regional "Wilderness"
Over the weekend, I finally backpacked the entire Ohlone Trail from Sunol Regional Wilderness to Del Valle Regional Park. I have wanted to do that for as long as I can remember -- you know, because it was there! Because it was an unknown. I had hopes, because of its remoteness and inaccessibility, of seeing something really special.
I have to commend Beth, the person who took my fee in Sunol. I had been planning to hike to the first campground in Ohlone (Doe) by moonlight. She convinced me that I should stay at Sky Camp instead -- a very wise suggestion. Frankly, three miles in the dark, after not backpacking for several years, was quite enough…. She also recommended I spend the second night at Maggie's Half Acre #2, a beautiful site. Thank you, Beth!
I found the park very clean and well maintained. I loved Maggie's Half Acre and the relatively wild areas between it and the end of the trail in Del Valle.
Unfortunately, most of Ohlone is not "wilderness", or even close to it. It is still a working cattle ranch, attractive perhaps to someone seeing a cattle ranch for the first time, but not to anyone who cares about wildlife! The "hand of man" lies very heavily on Ohlone. Most of the native vegetation has been replaced by exotic grasses and other weeds. Maggie's is nice precisely because the cattle have been fenced out of it! Throughout most of the park, where cattle are allowed, none of the oaks are reproducing. All of the saplings are eaten by the cows! I know that, because the same species are reproducing just fine where cattle are excluded.
Slogging 20 miles down a dirt road in the middle of a cattle ranch is not my idea of a good time. I can't think of a single reason to go back to Ohlone, in its current, wrecked, condition. Apparently most other people feel the same. I saw only two other campers in Ohlone, who hiked to Maggie's from Sunol and back. Several people hiked the entire 20 miles in one day. Apparently they weren't there to enjoy the park, but to use it as a kind of test of stamina. The same goes for the mountain biker who rode the trail (including Sunol's McCorkle Trail) illegally, apparently on Thursday or Friday (judging by the freshness of the tracks). He also rode the footpath up to the top of Mt. Rose. I actually learned several new plants and animals while on this trip. I wonder what the "marathoners" learned?
(By the way, I didn't find a sign marking the upper McCorkle turnoff from the Cerro Este Trail. I wasted a lot of time going up and down looking for it, finally giving up and taking the Canyon View Trail.)
I can't say what a let-down it was, to finally get to the "Emerald Kingdom" and find it such a wreck. I am, frankly, speechless.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Vandeman, Michael J., http://mjvande.info, especially "The Effects of Mountain Biking on Wildlife and People -- Why Off-Road Bicycling Should be Prohibited" and "Equal Access to Our Parks".
Wuerthner, George and Mollie Matteson, eds., Welfare Ranching: The Subsidized Destruction of the American West. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002.