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February 10, 2012 > A Critical Public Need: Parks

A Critical Public Need: Parks

I am happy to announce that over five new miles of the Bay Area Ridge Trail was recently opened to the public. This section is located in the hills above Alum Rock Park in the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, along with other partners, made this trail possible. This addition brings the total amount of completed trail to over 338 miles.

The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council is dedicated to creating over 550 miles of continuous trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians along the ridges overlooking San Francisco Bay. On the trail, you can enjoy spectacular, expansive views of the Bay, Pacific coastline, mountain ranges, and city skylines, while crossing diverse landscapes of towering redwoods, open grasslands and dense California forests, wildflower-covered meadows, coastal bluffs and world-famous bridges.

Trails are a critical aspect of any parks system. They provide access to nature and open space. And they provide linkages to encourage the public use of the multitude of parks in Santa Clara County. The Santa Clara County Parks System is a fantastic resource that was made possible by the champions of the Park Charter Fund in 1972. This voter approved initiative allocated a percentage of existing property tax revenues to the acquisition, development and maintenance of parks.

When I was a kid, we had plenty of orchards to run and play in. Unfortunately as the valley has built out, those open spaces have disappeared. Therefore parks and green spaces have become even more important for public health. That is why, shortly after joining the Board of Supervisors, I asked the Parks Department to update their 17 year old Parks Acquisition Plan.

In the 70's, 80's and 90's, park acquisition was often used as a planning tool to limit urban sprawl. Land was cheap, so homes were being built right up into the hills. An urban greenbelt was seen as a way to acquire land and hold it in the hands of the public to prevent it from disappearing forever. In those decades, park acquisition by the county was sometimes rural - other times urban.

Now that the urban cores have been compressed, we need to continue our focus on planning but also on public health. Oftentimes, the only place children have to play is in the street. This is obviously not a good idea. So children stay inside and play video games. While not the only reason, it is a significant contributor towards childhood obesity and long term health impacts. All parks systems in the county must look to providing parks as places to relax, unwind, exercise and form a sense of community.

I believe the County Parks Department should take a balanced approach to providing recreational opportunities for all county residents in urban, suburban and rural areas. This could take the form of rural open space, suburban regional parks, urban community parks, and trails that link all three. By continuing to build a balanced and comprehensive parks system with cities and other agencies, we can go a long way towards creating positive impacts on the mental and physical health of our families - and on our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What is your opinion? What types of parks are most important to you as a Santa Clara County resident? Should the county continue to focus on the large rural parks like Ed Levin County Park or Grant Ranch? Or should we work with our partners to increase the amount of easily available urban parks and trails like Hellyer, Vasona and Lake Cunningham? Or should we do both?

Please give me your thoughts and suggestions by calling 408-299-5030 or emailing me at dave.cortese@bos.sccgov.org. Feel free to contact me if you have any other issues or concerns as well.

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