November 16, 2006

Hidden No More: Hidden Falls Regional Park Opens to the Public

By Art Campos, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Nov. 16--It's being called the "crown jewel" in Placer County's park system. And it's going to get bigger and better.

The 220-acre Hidden Falls Regional Park, which opened Oct. 30, has given hikers, bikers, runners and equestrians a chance to enjoy the beauty of a nature area. Offering wide-open spaces and two cascading creeks, the park is located on the Didion Ranch, about 3 1/2 miles northwest of Auburn.

In addition to the seven miles of trails, visitors can enjoy fishing, picnics, wildlife viewing, photography and other passive recreational activities in the blue oaks woodlands.

County officials say that by late 2008, the park will grow by 960 acres as land sold by the neighboring Spears Ranch clears the county's environmental and approval processes.

"It's going to be like a national park," said Placer Supervisor Robert Weygandt, who has been credited by colleagues for spearheading acquisition of the lands.

Supervisor Jim Holmes said the resulting 1,180-acre nature area "will be a park for the ages."

Two creeks pass through the wilderness area -- Coon Creek and Deadman Canyon Creek. A bridge crosses the latter creek. Hidden Falls Regional Park was named for the creeks' several waterfalls, including a year-round falls that is 20 to 30 feet high, according to Placer officials.

At the park entrance, the county has built a 50-space parking lot, a staging area and restrooms. There also is a water tank for use in case of fires.

Bicyclist Brian Perron was among the first to enjoy the new park, which is at the end of Mears Place, a small street north of Mears and Mount Vernon roads.

"Pretty good," Perron said of the bike trails during the grand opening. "I'm from Marin County, and there are lots of trails there. This compares to those. There are plenty of trails here."

Perron admitted that he got a head start on Hidden Falls Regional Park.

"We've actually been coming out here for two months already," he said. "I have some friends, and we come out here every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. We always put in a good hour of riding."

The acquisition of Hidden Falls was made through Placer Legacy, the county program designed to preserve and protect open space and agricultural resources. The site was obtained for $767,500 from BOR Properties LLC, which was formed by several partners, including James Didion, who owned the property for about 50 years.

In addition to the 220-acre regional park, about 560 acres of the Didion Ranch will remain largely undeveloped because of a conservation easement that the Didions donated to the county. The easement protects all 780 acres of the ranch from being developed beyond 21 home sites that have been permitted through historical entitlements. The homes will be on 20- to 50-acre lots.

Weygandt said Hidden Falls was what he envisioned when Placer Legacy was formed in the late 1990s.

"Legacy gave us a policy document to do these kinds of transactions," he said. "In 2000, we began setting aside $1 million annually for these purchases. With that money and with matching grants, we began this process with willing sellers."

Supervisor Bruce Kranz praised Weygandt for being "a bulldog" in the Placer Legacy program.

"We need a regional park like this," he said at the grand opening. "(Development) will keep coming, so we need an open space area like this for the public. You don't get too many opportunities to get a setup like this."

Not everyone was thrilled with the debut of Hidden Falls Regional Park. Several neighbors were concerned about the traffic that will come to the rural area. Margaretha French, a 40-year resident of Mears Place, said the county must post traffic signs to slow down motorists entering the park.

"People need to be respectful of the neighbors and the areas where there are horses," French said. "I love seeing land being protected here. But above all, I love seeing respect given to the neighbors."

Another neighbor, Dave Bugenig, said park visitors make it tough for residents to get to their homes on Mears Place and Mears Road.

"We're excited that the county has acquired the park," he said. "We thought we were going to lose the land to development. Our biggest fear now is that the road leading to it is an accident waiting to happen. I want caution signs and road signs."

County officials have promised to look into their concerns.

Still to come is the merging of the Spears Ranch land northeast of Lincoln with the Hidden Falls park.

When purchased from the Spears family early in 2004, Placer officials called it the largest regional park acquisition in the county's history.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation group, bought the property for $3.5 million in December 2003 and turned it over to Placer for a regional park.

The property, off Garden Bar Road, has been used for cattle grazing. Three miles of Coon Creek meander through the hills and canyons of the wooded land. Deer, skunks, jackrabbits, porcupines, quail, pheasants and turkeys are among the wildlife denizens.

About the writer:

* The Bee's Art Campos can be reached at (916) 773-2825 or [email protected]


Copyright (c) 2006, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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