December 4, 2012 

Over the past few years we've been lucky to have many formerly off-limits areas opened up for outdoor recreation. Many of these areas are surprisingly close to home, located on the floor of the Central Valley, in the nearby foothills, and along the Central Coast.

Fort Ord National Monument and State Park

In April, 7,200 acres of what used to be Fort Ord became a national monument. Located near Salinas along Highway 68 and Reservation Road, this area has 86 miles of trails that are open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. To learn more, go to www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/

fo/hollister/fort_ord/_recreation_fo.html or call (831) 630-5000. Further west, four miles of beach that was once part of the fort is now Fort Ord Dunes Park (http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=580 / 831-649-2836).

PG&E Trails near San Luis Obispo

For many years a large section of the coastline south of San Luis Obispo was completely off-limits to the public. Security concerns for PG&E's nuclear Diablo Canyon Power Plant Owned by PG&E were the cause, but in 1993 PG&E decided to allow access to the Pecho Coast Trail southwest and of the plant. In 2007 the Point Buchon trail was opened along the northeast coastline. The Buchon Trail is open to 275 hikers daily and reservations are recommended. The Pecho Trail has more limited access: 20 people on Wednesdays and 40 on Saturdays -- reservations are a necessity. The Pecho Trail also includes access to the Point San Luis Lighthouse. For more information and reservations, go to pge.modwest.com/pgereservations/

trailshome.php or call (805) 541-8735.

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

A new state-of-the-art visitor center opened at the refuge earlier this year. Located seven miles north of Los Banos on Wolfsen Road, it's a great place to learn more about local wildlife before heading out on one of the refuge's auto tour routes or hiking trails. The visitor center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on all days except federal holidays and the refuge is open from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset. For more information go to http://www.fws.gov/sanluis/ or call (209) 826-3508.

Sierra Foothill Conservancy Preserves

In April, I wrote about an enjoyable hike to the top of Fresno County's Table Mountain. The McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve is one of four preserves owned by the Conservancy. Access is offered during guided hikes and classes. A new season of hikes and classes will begin in January and continue through May. To sign up, go to www.sierrafoothill.org or call (559) 855-3473. The other three preserves include Black Mountain between Prather and Tollhouse, Tivy Mountain near Pine Flat Lake, and Fine Gold Creek near Millerton Lake. Hikes and classes are also offered on lands in Mariposa County where the Conservancy holds conservation easements. These hikes are especially enjoyable during the spring wildflower season.

Tejon Ranch

I've you've ever driven south to LA on I-5, you crossed Tejon Ranch as you climbed the Grapevine. Made up of four land grants made when California was part of Mexico, the ranch's hills and mountains are one of the largest undeveloped areas between Bakersfield and LA. In 2008, a land-use agreement was made that will allow development on three areas of the ranch, but will also keep up to 90 percent of the ranch undeveloped (240,000 acres). While this will take many more years to come to fruition, the Tejon Ranch Conservancy currently offers guided wildflower hikes in the spring. Reservations are required. You can learn more and sign up at www.tejonconservancy.org/events.

Sutter Buttes

The "world's smallest mountain range" is one of California's unique features. Rising from the floor of the Sacramento Valley near Yuba City, this geologically isolated group of small mountains can be explored on guided hikes offered by the Middle Mountain Foundation (www.middlemountain.org/530-755-3568). Although access has been offered since the 1970s, I chose to include the Buttes on my list of "new areas" because they're off the radar for many outdoor enthusiasts in our area. Hikes are offered throughout the year, though this is an especially enjoyable area to see during the spring wildflower bloom. McClatchy Newspapers played a role in the expansion of hiking opportunities in the Buttes, donating much of North Butte in 1996.

In addition to these areas, there are quite a few that are slated to open in the coming months and years. Stay tuned -- I'll feature some of them later in the month.

Adam Blauert can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com.

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