On a recent hike through Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve in Santa Clara County, I found a sanctuary of mixed forest a mile from Highway 17. The beautiful preserve includes a natural lake (more of a pond) that was altered by former residents to serve as a water source for the land. Here I saw the only wildlife that day: a few scaups. Since they were swimming and diving in this inland fresh water, I knew they were lesser scaups. Greater scaup habitat is saltwater. Western pond turtles, which are generally in decline, also live in the lake, but none were sunning in the 52-degree weather.
To use the hiking trails, you must cross Bear Creek Road from the parking area. Starting on the Alma trail, you face a moderate uphill route through bay, oak, ferns and second growth redwoods. A few stunning mature redwoods can also be found there.
The park only opened in the spring of 2019 after some restoration of the natural landscape, such as removal of invasive ivy. Another area of the 1500-acre park is still under refurbishment. In an affront to Ohlone peoples , the boulders with holes for grinding acorn and seeds into flour were stolen and used for landscaping during the “estate” period of the wealthy.
I saw new planting of redwood seedlings, thimbleberry and the like, but I also noticed several dead tan oak trees, which had succumbed to Sudden Oak Death, a tree disease known to scientists as phytophthora ramorum.
The creek was barely flowing and there is no easy access to it to look for newts. After a mile on the Alma trail, where you can see views of the hills to the East, you’ll reach the intersection with Redwood Springs Trail. If you go straight, you’ll remain on the darker, colder, yet still beautiful, Alma trail. If you go right, you’ll encounter more openings in the canopy, due to some chaparral habitat that sits on the south hill. Either way you’ll enjoy your hike to the trail that takes you to Madrone Knoll.
It’s about an 800-foot climb to the 2,400-foot peak. If you don’t take this 1.8 mile round-trip offshoot, the loop will be about 4 miles and bring you back to the beginning.