SFPUC may ease recreational access to Crystal Springs Reservoir property

By on Thu, January 28, 2010

Sawyer Camp Trail parallels Crystal Springs reservoir

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission owns a great deal of open space between Highway 280 and the Coastside, and nearly all of it is inaccessible to the public. This may change in the not too distant future.

The Chronicle’s Tom Stienstra notes that the SFPUC only has to unlock a couple of gates to connect Sweeney Ridge Trail to the Pacific, via Rancho Corral de Tierra—and that it may eventually happen.

After years of public prodding and pleading with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the Crystal Springs Watershed with the San Francisco Water Department, the water agency has a new conciliatory attitude toward public access that could eventually unlock two gates on the service road.

"There’s definitely a change," said Powell, in regard to the commission’s thoughts. "I think that trip (Sweeney-to-the-sea) could be possible in the future."

The commission has always been tight-lipped about public access, but the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s influence could open the door. That’s because of the pending addition of Rancho Corral de Tierra to the recreation area by year’s end, leaving the watershed sandwiched between two recreation area properties - Sweeney to the east and Rancho to the west.

The two locked gates between Sweeney and Rancho are on a service road. One gate is about a mile south of Sweeney Ridge and the other is just off the shoulder of the summit of Montara Mountain. This gravel and dirt road rises up the wilderness east flank of the mountain. It is bordered by chaparral, so those making the trek would be forced to stay on the road.

Meanwhile, San Mateo County may be able to eventually open a trail to connect Sawyer Camp Trail with Cañada Road, reports Julia Scott in the County Times.

The project would involve paving a three-mile stretch of existing service road that meanders along Crystal Springs Road without a car in sight, offering unimpeded views of the lush parkland owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). A former stagecoach route for traffic from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, the trail used to overlook small towns and farmlands before they were removed to make way for Crystal Springs Reservoir.

It sounds simple enough, but the project has been beset by delays related to lack of funding. The SFPUC is planning a major, unrelated construction project to raise Crystal Springs Dam to prevent a flood hazard, which will involve rebuilding a short section of Skyline Boulevard. When that project is completed, likely in three to four years, the repaved road will include a pathway for hikers and bikers to make their way over the dam to the new trail segment.

Today the Sawyer Camp trail is nine miles long and gets 300,000 visitors per year, according to the parks department. The county leases the land from the SFPUC. Next week, county officials will present an updated design and engineering plan to the SFPUC for its approval.

Senior Parks Planner Sam Herzberg says the combined 12-mile pathway, to be renamed Crystal Springs Trail, should be completed by then. But finding grant funding for it has been difficult. The first 1.1-mile extension, from the dam to Highway 92, will cost $800,000, and the parks department only has half the money in hand so far.

Scott notes that access for equestrians is still an open question for the project.