Keep El Corte de Madera wild!
The fondly remembered Porsche 914. (Photo taken by Randy Miller during Patty Ciesla’s ’hookey ride’, June 6, 1997.)
- Current trail status
- How you can help
- For more information
In hindsight, it was inevitable that
El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve
This land had once been logged extensively,
leaving numerous road cuts that would later form trails.
Prior to being acquired
in the mid 1980s by
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD)
the land was used by a local off-road motorcycle club ("PITS"),
which formed an extensive network of trails.
Many of these trails were later used by mountain bikers.
At first, the MROSD treated this preserve with "benign neglect",
allowing the numerous singletrack trails in this beautiful area to remain wild.
Several of these trails included fallen trees and steep, technically challenging descents.
As a result,
El Corte de Madera
became one of the most popular mountain biking areas on the San Francisco Peninsula.
However in 1996 the MROSD, over the objections of most of the local mountain biking community,
adopted (and began implementing) a comprehensive new trail plan.
Several singletrack trails have already been closed.
Several more will be realigned and/or ’sanitized’ in various ways:
to widen them, remove obstacles, and reduce their steepness.
Some new trails will also be built - in particular, to replace the "Pipeline" trail (which runs through private property at the northwest corner of the park).
The MROSD’s plan alters El Corte de Madera’s trail system to conform to
the same width (4 ft. minimum) and steepness (25% maximum)
guidelines that are in effect at its other open space preserves.
This is illustrated by the "Manzanita" (aka. "Chinquapin") trail - a realignment of the original "Manzanita trail" - near the center of the park.
This demonstration trail is scenic, with some
but the (realigned) upper portion of the trail is smooth and wide - reminscent of
Before drafting their plan, the MROSD put together a task force that - to their credit - included representatives from
(the local mountain bike advocacy group).
Not all of the final plan was unfavorable to mountain bikers.
As a result of input from ROMP,
the MROSD agreed to let mountain bikers build the new
"Leaf Extension" trail (in the western end of the preserve) by hand, without the use
of ’sanitizing’ trail machines.
This trail will also be built to a width of 3 feet: 1 foot less than the MROSD’s usual standard for ’multi-use’ trails.
(The existing "Leaf" trail will also be preserved at the same width.)
Current trail status (as of 2015.03.05)
- The new bypass around "Faceplant" and the lower section of "914" has been completed, and is already open to bikes.
The old "Faceplant"
is now closed.
(In fact, it’s been completely obliterated.)
- The MROSD’s alternative to the "Parallel" trail - called the "Sierra Morena" trail - has been completed, and is currently open to hikers.
(Like most newly cut trails, it is closed to bikes and horses for the first winter.)
- These (and other) activities are summarized in the MROSD’s trail construction report.
- The MROSD built their new version of the "Parallel" trail in September.
This trail, although described as a "realignment" of the existing trail, actually
reuses very little of the existing trail.
It also crosses behind the knoll near gate 2, thereby crossing
both "Devil’s Staircase" and "Nose Break".
Patty Ciesla proposed an alternative alignment for this section of trail, that would remain in front of the knoll,
but this was rejected by the MROSD.
- Peter Donohue reports that the eastern side of the "Lower Crossing" (aka. the "Virginia Mill" or "Sammy Miller" trails) has now been bulldozed.
(The western side was bulldozed last year.)
- The MROSD reports
that they’ve begun constructing their bypass around "Faceplant" and the lower section of "914".
- Sometime around July 1st the MROSD took a small ’trail dozer’ down the first half of Gary’s Shortcut, and bulldozed several sections of it. The blading stopped shortly before reaching that knoll that begins the steep section (which the MROSD plans at some future date to bypass).
The blading included the two ’problem areas’ on this half of the trail: (i) the minor erosion that was present near the start of the trail (i.e., near the Lawrence Creek junction), and (ii) a section of the trail that was in some danger of disappearing down the side of a cliff. Fortunately the bulldozer operator lifted the blade in several places, and overall the blading is not as bad as the blading of Donner Pass (where the trail was actually rerouted in several places). But once again, several sections of the trail have been turned into a wide, smooth expressway :-(
What’s most infuriating about this is that - once again - the MROSD staff didn’t warn us that they were about to do this, let alone try to figure out how volunteer hand labor might be used instead of blading. (The two problem areas could probably have been fixed in a single evening of trailwork.)
The MROSD knew full well how much cyclists valued this trail in its unbladed state. At the last board meeting we made it very clear to them how we felt about Donner Pass being bladed by surprise. That they’ve now gone ahead and done the same thing to Gary’s Shortcut can only be interpreted as deliberate provocation!
- MROSD staff have removed the dead Porsche from the "914" trail
- "Donner Pass" trail has been bladed.
All of the technical sections of this trail have now been either smoothed out, or bypassed.
Sadly, this ’sanitizing’ has ruined one of ECdM’s most beautiful trails, not
to mention inviting excessive speed by less-experienced riders.
- Berry Stevens reports that he’s persuaded the MROSD to reopen the lowermost section to our use temporarily, probably until the Faceplant/lower 914 diversion has been completed.
In any event, this trail will be closed permanently to bikes (& horses :-) sometime this summer.
- The new "Resolution" and "El Corte de Madera" (i.e., "Pipeline bypass") trails
have been reopened.
Two existing trails nearby - "Deer Antler" and "Carnage" - have now been closed.
- "Dave’s Wet Dream" (the right-hand trail leading down from the "Big Tree" clearing)
has now been closed.
- The top of "Faceplant" has been fenced off.
(The bypass to the right remains open, however.)
Sometime this summer, "Faceplant" will be closed completely.
In its place, a bypass will be built a little further north across the creek.
(This will also reroute around the steep lower section of "914".)
- The "914" trail has been hit hard by the winter storms.
Small slides have come down in places, and there is concern about a couple of
areas (above the Porsche) where the hillside is threatening to slip away,
taking the trail with it.
The MROSD is planning - perhaps sometime this winter - to bring a blade down to widen these areas.
This is unfortunate, but this is one case where blading really does seem necessary.
It’s not clear how far down this blading will go, and in particular, whether
it will affect the Porsche.
Unfortunately the MROSD favors removing the Porsche - the trail’s defining landmark - sometime in the future.
- Pipeline remains open (although it’s muddy in the usual places).
In the Spring, following the reopening of the new bypass trail (the "El Corte de Madera Creek Trail"), the section through private property will be closed permanently,
and the lower, ’technical’ section (between the new bypass trail and the bottom of 914/Faceplant) will be made hiking-only.
- The "Virginia Mill" (aka. "Lower Crossing" or "Sammy Miller") trail and the "Lawrence Creek" fireroad are currently closed due to muddy conditions (& perhaps one or more landslides - I’m not sure).
"Gary’s Shortcut" is also closed (because it exits onto the Lawrence Creek fireroad).
- The new trail that will replace "Pipeline" has been completed.
This trail - sections "A1" through "A4" on the MROSD’s trail plan, and now known as the "El Corte de Madera Creek Trail" - starts from the upper
section of the current "Pipeline" trail, winds around the hill that
contains the "Sandstone Formation", re-crosses El Corte de Madera creek below the
Vista Point, heads back along a central section of the current "Pipeline" trail,
then heads uphill to gate CM07.
Unfortunately most of this new trail, with the exception of a section ("A3")
near the Sandstone Formation, is quite flat, and, although quite pretty, is
not the least bit challenging.
- The new trail "A5" that runs below the Vista Point (near the plane crash site) has been completed.
and partially cut.
Because of the terrain in this area, this trail
- unlike the rather wimpy "A1"-"A4" trails that bypass "Pipeline" -
is quite windy and ’funky’.
The official name of this trail is the "Resolution Trail".
("Resolution" was the name of the aircraft that crashed here in October, 1953.)
Both new trails ("El Corte de Madera Creek" and "Resolution") were
’opened’ in an official ceremony,
before being closed for the remainder of the wet season
to protect the newly-built tread.
- Volunteers have begun working with MROSD staff
to build the new "Leaf Extension" trail.
This trail will start near gate CM07 (branching off the fire road) and run parallel to
Star Hill Road, ending up intersecting the "914" trail near gate CM08.
It will be built completely by hand - no evil trail machines allowed!
Although the MROSD doesn’t want any of this trail to exceed a 15% grade,
they appear to be more flexible about its width - allowing it to be only 3’ wide.
In places the trail will wind narrowly through beautiful stands of redwoods.
The construction of this trail is starting from the "914" end.
(The start of the trail will be clearly visible on the right as you climb up "914".)
Note, BTW, that the name "Leaf Extension" is somewhat of a misnomer.
The trail currently being built does not join with the trail that most of us call "Leaf".
In the future, however, depending on how well the MROSD likes our work on the initial trail, we may also get to build another trail from "914" through to the "Leaf Trail" proper.
- The western approach to the lower creek crossing (often called the "Sammy Miller Trail"; now officially known as the "Virginia Mill Trail")
has been cleared by a large trail machine.
It is sad that this work has obliterated one of the prettiest pieces of singletrack in the whole of ECdM,
especially since the MROSD declined ROMP’s offer to provide volunteer "hand work" on parts of this trail
as a means of avoiding use of a trail machine.
(See Todd McGee’s message for more details.)
At some point the MROSD may also build a small bridge across the creek.
A final decision on this has not yet been made.
To date, no work has been done on the eastern approach trail.
Unfortunately, however, MROSD staff has made it clear that sometime in 1997, this trail
will also be bladed and widened significantly (even more than was done on the western side),
so that heavy equipment can be brought down for work near the creek.
- The log jump on the "Donner Pass" trail has been removed.
This was prompted by a September 1996 accident in which someone broke an arm.
- All of the overhanging trees have been cleared from "the Low Road" (the singletrack
trail that parallels the central section of the "Timberview" fire road).
I was surprised and disappointed to see this done so soon, and without warning.
I mailed a complaint to the MROSD about this.
(Mike Fuhrer has presented another point of view.
Here’s my response to Mike’s message, and another response
from Akkana Peck.)
- A section of central "Pipeline" trail - between the junction of the dirt road
from gate CM07
(the "unabomber cabin") and the trail down from the Vista Point - has
The MROSD warned us that they were going to do this.
This work was apparently necessary in order to repair a culvert towards the bottom of the
trail down from the Vista Point.
(This section forms part of the MROSD’s new trail "A4".)
The VW Bug wreckage that used to lie along the creek here has been removed, crushed,
and left by the side of the newly-bulldozed trail.
It will presumably be removed in the future.
This newly-bulldozed section of "Pipeline" is the only part of the trail
(apart from the uppermost section) that will remain open.
It forms part of the new "El Corte de Madera Creek" trail that runs from the upper section of the current "Pipeline"
to gate CM07.
The road down from gate CM07 has also been cleared.
(This is where the bulldozer was brought down.)
- The "Whoops" trail (in the eastern half of the park)
has been fenced off and signposted ("Closed - not a trail") at each end.
!@#$%!@#! This beautiful trail is not the least bit eroded.
It’s only ’crime’ is that it’s narrow, its upper section (presumably) exceeds the MROSD’s 25% maximum,
and that it ’duplicates’ the boring lower section of the "Pump House" fire road.
Geez, let’s close down San Francisco because it has some steep narrow streets,
and ’duplicates’ Los Angeles.
- The trail to the "Aerial Tree" creek crossing has been blocked off.
At one point the MROSD had also intended to cut down the tree itself.
However, in response to comments by concerned members of the public
the MROSD has decided to leave the tree alone for now.
They have made it clear, however, that they may still cut the tree down sometime in
the future if they find people using the tree as a crossing, or using the (now-closed) approach trails.
- The trees that had previously fallen over the upper section of "Pipeline" (above the future connection to the bypass) have now been cleared.
(The rest of "Pipeline", below the bypass, will
be closed once the new bypass is opened to all users
- probably in late autumn.)
- The "Cheap Sunglasses" (aka. "Another Dead Bug")
trail in the southwest of the park
has been closed.
The top section of the trail has been plowed, and covered with cut branches.
- The singletrack ’braid’ off the main "Boulevard" fire road
(between gate CM01 and the "four corners" area) has been fenced off
at each end.
- The original entrance to the trail that runs from gate CM03 down to the "Totem Road" has been reopened.
The other entrances to this trail have been closed.
How you can help
- Although the MROSD is now well in the process of implementing their trail plan,
you may still write them a letter,
letting them know (politely) how you feel about the future
of El Corte de Madera Open Space Preserve.
The address is:
Board of Directors
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District
330 Distel Circle
If you send email, add a note near the top of the message asking for it
to be forwarded to the board.
- If you can, please
for biker-friendly candidates for the MROSD’s Board of Directors.
For more information
- The MROSD’s trail plan (which includes maps) can be picked up at
the MROSD’s office
at 330 Distel Circle, Los Altos.
Distel Circle is just off of El Camino Real in Los Altos, between San Antonio and Rengstorff.
Driving south from San Antonio Road on El Camino, Distel Circle is a right-hand turn, next to a "Carls Jr.".
(Distel Circle should not be confused with the adjacent Distel Drive, although the two streets do intersect.)
- Heather Woods’s Palo Alto Weekly article,
June 19, 1996.
- The MROSD’s trail plan was discussed extensively in early 1996.
The following email messages (from the ROMP mailing list archive) may be of interest:
- Finally, here is the letter that I sent to the MROSD, prior to the April 15th, 1996 meeting:
I am writing to the MROSD in regard to its proposed trail plan for El Corte de
Madera Open Space Preserve. I appreciate that the MROSD included - in its
task force - a broad cross-section of the community that enjoys this park.
However, I am disturbed that the resulting trail plan does not reflect the
concerns of this community, and by the fact that during the open meeting
held on January 25th, the directors seemed determined to proceed with
the plan, in spite of the considerable criticism expressed by the public at
The numerous preserves owned by the MROSD span the spectrum from gentle open
spaces located next to urban areas (such as Fremont Older), to wild and rugged
land located in more rural settings (such as El Corte de Madera). I feel that
this wide diversity of preserves is important, and that because of this, the
MROSD’s trail guidelines should be flexible, instead of a "one size fits all"
policy being applied uniformly to all preserves. In particular, the wide,
smooth, gently-sloped trails found in preserves such as Fremont Older and
Saratoga Gap would be less appropriate in El Corte de Madera, especially in
the southwestern section of the park, far from Skyline Boulevard. Many of
the trail modifications in the MROSD’s proposed plan would diminish the
special character of El Corte de Madera, and spoil much of its natural beauty.
I also note that El Corte de Madera is currently very popular with mountain
cyclists. I am concerned that the widespread trail closures and realignments
outlined in the MROSD’s plan will make this park much less popular with
this group of trail users, increasing the possibility of trail conflicts
occurring in other preserves.
In summary, I ask the MROSD directors to consider amending their trail plan
- Limit the major trail realignment, widening and leveling to the area
of the preserve that to Skyline Boulevard.
- Leave the trails in the other areas of the preserve (especially in
the south and southwest) untouched, with possible exceptions made,
on a case-by-case basis, for areas of extreme erosion.
- Meet with the owner of the private property at the northwest corner
of the park, to discuss whether some arrangement can be made to
permit park visitors to cross this land. (I note that there is
already a precedent for this - namely, the Garrod Farms land
adjacent to Fremont Older O.S.P.)
Last modified date: 2015.03.05
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