Due to shelter-in-place rules brought on by COVID-19, many residents have taken to exploring local outdoor spaces near their homes that they may not have previously frequented.
The increase in visitors has caused overcrowding at some of the open-space preserves in recent months, prompting new regulations to balance the health and safety of residents while allowing them to enjoy the great wide open.
That includes the 20 Bay Area preserves overseen by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, whose staff is aware of how essential their parks are to residents’ physical and mental health during the pandemic.
“It has been wonderful to see everyone out in nature, and Midpen appreciates everyone doing their part to stay safe and keep our preserves open for enjoyment,” Midpen spokeswoman Leigh Ann Gessner said.
She added that Midpen has been closely following all county public health orders and has imposed regulations to maintain safety. Initially, all drinking fountains and restrooms were closed. However, Gessner said Midpen has implemented a new, more frequent cleaning protocol and has since been able to reopen the restrooms for public use.
Certain trails have been restricted to one-way loops to minimize contact, and visitors are encouraged to maintain 6 feet of distance from one another and wear face coverings. Gessner also noted that parking is limited, so if a lot is full, the trails are as well. If that’s the case, come back at another time. There are plenty of local preserves to choose from, however, including those listed below.
Hidden Villa, a farm and preserve on Moody Road in Los Altos Hills, is going through a phased reopening after closing its gates to the public in the beginning of March (the property is not part of MidPen). According to Marc Sidel, senior director of programs, farming and business operations have remained open and the farm continues to provide food baskets to community members. Hidden Villa hosted a soft reopening for volunteers and season pass holders June 10 and has since reopened to the general public, Sidel said. Three trails are now one-way routes to maximize social distancing. Hidden Villa buildings, farm animals and congregation spaces remain closed, Sidel added, and visitors must make a reservation to come on to the property. Hidden Villa is open 1-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. For reservations and more information, visit hiddenvilla.org/visit/plan-your-trip.
Foothills Preserve on Page Mill Road in Los Altos Hills is a 212-acre reserve located next to Hidden Villa, which offers trails of its own. Foothills Preserve has one 0.3-mile trail up to a scenic viewpoint and is accessible for equestrian riding or to dogs on a leash. Bikes are not allowed. Picnic and group activity areas are currently prohibited; Midpen officials encourage visitors to hike single file and only with household members. For more information, visit openspace.org/preserves/foothills.
Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve
Rancho San Antonio is a 3,988-acre open-space preserve bordering Los Altos and Cupertino that offers more than 24 miles of hiking trails, with limited access for cyclists and equestrians. Dogs are not permitted. Rancho has implemented one-way routes for certain trails to limit contact with other hikers. Parts of the preserve are wheelchair accessible. Paper maps are currently unavailable at Midpen preserves; visitors can download a map online from Midpen’s website or take a photo of the signboard map at the entrance before hiking.
Jessica Morgan, senior recreation director for Deer Hollow Farm – which is adjacent to Rancho San Antonio Open Space reserve and managed in partnership with the city of Mountain View – said the farm remains closed and there is no planned reopening date at this time.
For more information, visit openspace.org/preserves/rancho-san-antonio.
Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
The Monte Bello preserve on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto features 3,436 acres of open space. Hiking, biking and equestrian trails are open with limited access. Dogs are not allowed. Select trails are currently one-way only to allow for social distancing. Paper maps are not available onsite; download a map from the Midpen website or take a photo of the signboard map before hiking. For more information, visit openspace.org/preserves/monte-bello.
Stevens Creek Shoreline Nature Area
Stevens Creek, a 50-acre preserve near the bay in Mountain View, is popular for bird watching, including waterfowl, shorebirds and even a few endangered species. There is a half-mile trail open to visitors that is wheelchair accessible and recommended for children and families. Dogs and horses are not allowed. For more information, visit openspace.org/preserves/stevens-creek-shoreline-nature-area.
Byrne Preserve and Los Altos Hills Pathways Systems
Byrne Preserve and the Los Altos Hills Pathways Systems, not a part of Midpen, are a beautiful local space to enjoy nature, according to Los Altos Hills community services supervisor Sarah Robustelli. Visitors can park in the Westwind Community Barn parking lot on Altamont Road; purchase a map of the preserve and pathways system at Los Altos Hills Town Hall for $4. For more information, visit lahopenspace.com/initiative_home.html.