A Hike with Sister Toni
Neil Wiley

Although I enjoyed my visit to Presentation Center and a virtual tour of the new "green" Welcoming Center and Dining Facility, I also wanted to see the nearly 198 acres of natural habitat and open space that the Center recently sold to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.

This property along Bear Creek Road is a natural extension to the adjoining 1136-acre Bear Creek Open Space Preserve. This densely forested preserve includes first-growth redwoods, views of Lexington Reservoir, the Sierra Azule and Santa Clara Valley, and lots of quiet trails. It is home to many special status species, such as golden eagle, long-eared owl, mountain lion, and the California tiger salamander.

Although some of the Bear Creek trails are open under a permit system, the new parcel has not been developed. The district is still preparing a long-range master plan that will allow broader public use while protecting it for future generations.

When I asked the Presentation Center’s executive director, Sister Patricia Marie Mulpeters, for a tour, she volunteered the services of Sister Toni. The plan was to show me the top of the property at the intersection of Bear Creek Road and Summit. As we drove up to the ridge, Sister Toni pointed out property on both sides of Bear Creek going to Open Space.

Sister Toni was wearing culottes, a light shirt, and light shoes. She is shorter than my wife. It seemed obvious that our hike should be short. When we reached the top, I didn’t bother to bring my pack, water bottle, or even my cap. I would take a few pictures to give you some idea of how the park looks, but nothing more.

As we walked through the gate, Sister Toni showed me the area along the east side of Summit Road where Presentation Center once sold Christmas trees. The trail was wide, and it was an easy walk up and around a small hill. Soon we were in deep forest.

Perhaps this trail led back to the Presentation Center. The trail became steeper, but it was downhill and in the right direction, so we continued, half walking, half sliding. Even when we lost our footing, the deep duff cushioned our falls.

As we moved deeper into the canyons, the trail became fainter and the brush heavier. We talked about going back, but going up the steep hills was daunting. And we were still curious. What was beyond? Where would we come out?

We also were enjoying the sights. Huge trees. Deep ravines. The remains of first-growth redwoods. We found a small brick fireplace, all that was left of a cabin that Sister Toni had seen years before.

We also saw the devastation caused by logging. Although Big Creek Lumber has a better reputation than most loggers, they had butchered this forest, leaving large clear-cut areas, big slides, and hundreds of sawn trees that had never been removed. The one good thing was that as an Open Space Preserve this forest would not be logged again.

Although we wanted to go west, the trail took us east until we emerged from the forest into a large meadow. It wasn’t long before we could see the Presentation Center, several miles and several canyons to the west.

Sister Toni said that she remembered a trail a little west of a now-abandoned Jesuit vineyard. We found the vineyard, but the grapevines had given way to six-foot high greasewood. We plunged through the thick, high brush for half an hour. Where is a machete when you need one? When we stopped to rest, we shared our snack—a few pieces of sugarless gum.

We finally came out of our little jungle, only to find our way blocked by a deep ravine. Then we found a faint trail headed south. As we followed the trail back into the forest, it became wider and clearer. Sister Toni said that she remembered this trail, and in a mile or so, we were back at the Presentation Center, cold drinks in hand. It was then she told me that she had last walked this trail over thirty years ago. She offered to drive me back to my car, which I gladly accepted.

I learned many things on this hike. First, being prepared includes bringing the stuff you prepared along with you on the hike. The water bottle, food, and compass left in the car would have made the trip easier. As someone once said, most adventures are caused by poor planning.

I also unlearned something. Although I like solo hiking, it’s nice to have a pleasant companion, especially when the going gets rough. Sister Toni was such a companion—a small person with a large, generous, and uncomplaining spirit. The walk with her was more valuable than the destination.

Although our trail, perhaps fortunately, is not available, you can hike or ride horses through the lower part of Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve with a permit obtainable from Midpeninsula Open Space, 650-691-1200.


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