The Evolution of Henry W. Coe State Park
The lands that make up Henry W. Coe State Park today were amassed through a series of land acquisitions. Some of these acquisitions were gifts, while others were the result of complicated, negotiated purchases.
The Pine Ridge Ranch
On August 15, 1953, Sada Coe Robinson gift deeded her 12,230.55-acre Pine Ridge Ranch to the County of Santa Clara. Sada's deed contained three short provisos:
- The real property was to be used as a park for the people of the State of California.
- Santa Clara County was to erect a suitable memorial to her father, Henry W. Coe, Jr.
- Any income derived from the use of the real property was to be spent for its further development as a recreation area.
Santa Clara County Stewardship
Under the stewardship of Santa Clara County, only a single improvement was accomplished at Coe Park that met one of the specifications of Sada's gift deed. A monument was erected and dedicated to "Harry" Coe high up on Pine Ridge. But economic constraints soon forced the county supervisors to offer the park to the State of California. The state's cost $10.
Coe Park was transferred to the state on November 10, 1958. The Department of Finance formally approved the park's transfer to state control on August 17, 1959. By that transfer date, the infant Coe Park had grown to 13,119 acres, primarily because of additional properties acquired from Sada Coe Robinson in the northwest corner of the park.
The Coit Ranch
The second major addition to Henry W. Coe State Park, the Coit Ranch, was acquired in 1980. Frank Coit had purchased 10,000 acres of Santa Clara County land in 1950. Coit, a Central Valley melon grower and cattle rancher, planned to use his new land for cattle grazing and as a deer-hunting preserve. Coit's acreage lay immediately east and south of the Pine Ridge Ranch. Subsequent land purchases by Coit, prior to the state's ownership, raised the size of the ranch to 17,960 acres.
In September 1979, the California legislature appropriated $3,185,753 for Coe Park additions-the Thomas and Coit Ranches. In May 1980, title to the Coit Ranch passed to the Department of Parks and Recreation at a price of $155 per acre.
These purchases were not without opposition. Local cattle ranchers coveted the land for open range grazing, while the City of San Jose wanted the state park money to be diverted to developing Lake Cunningham Regional Park.
The Thomas Ranch
Leon Thomas, an early supporter of Coe Park, and his brother George were members of a pioneering hill-country cattle family that had deep roots in the historic Madrone area, north of downtown Morgan Hill. The Thomas brothers were sons of Preston Thomas who had homesteaded a 1,140-acre ranch in the Cold Flat area adjacent to Harry Coe's lands. The Thomas brothers offered this property to the state as an addition to Coe Park. The State legislature included potential purchase funds in Senate Bill 582, which contained the funding for the Coit Ranch purchase. The Thomas addition became state property on July 1, 1980.
Sada Coe Robinson was less than enthusiastic about additional lands being joined to Coe Park, but her opinion did not deter the state from considering an even larger land acquisition in the following year.
The Gill Mustang Ranch
Due in part to the publicity generated by the purchases of the Coit and Thomas properties, the state was offered the opportunity to purchase the 34,800-acre Gill Mustang Ranch, which adjoined the expanded Coe Park to the immediate east. This ranch, which had seen a succession of owners, took its modern-day name from the ownership of Will Gill and sons and from Mustang Peak.
To appease strong political opposition that arose within segments of the Central Valley cattle industry, the State Public Works Board restricted its purchase to only 34,800 acres of the Gill Mustang Ranch at a cost of $7,500,000. Some 13,200 acres in the Garzas Creek drainage and the ranch headquarters on Orestimba Creek were excluded from the purchase.
The Silacci Addition
On November 7, 1985, ranchers Carol and Donald Silacci signed a grant deed that gave ownership of 500+ acres to the State. This land provided access to the southwestern end of the park via the Gilroy Hot Springs Road at Coyote Creek. Thus, a potential second public access to Coe Park was envisioned in the Department of Parks and Recreation General Plan for Henry W. Coe State Park, May 1985. But several years would pass before this entrance would be open for unrestricted access.
The Bell's Station Entrance
The Bell's Station entrance is sometimes referred to as "the most narrow California state park." In 1990 the Department of Parks and Recreation purchased fifty feet on each side of the center line of the Kaiser Aetna road from the Sanwa Bank of California. The six-mile right of way extends from the park gate at the Dowdy Ranch south to Highway 152 at Bell's Station. The state also secured seven acres behind the historic restaurant site adjacent to the highway. Access to the east side of Coe Park and its Orestimba wilderness is easily gained through this roadway.
Bell's Station derived its name from a one-time gold miner, Lafayette Bell, who purchased most of the Pacheco Pass Turnpike Company and the small tavern telegraph station at the western end of the toll road in 1863. The building served as a rest stop on the "St. Louis to San Francisco Transcontinental Route" of the Butterfield Stage Coach Company. In 1873 a U.S. post office was authorized at the tavern, with Bell designated as the first postmaster.
In 1879 free passage to all travelers was granted after Merced and Santa Clara Counties purchased the toll road.
The Redfern Ranch
The Parks and Recreation Department had long envisioned reopening old ranch roads and trails lying to the east and south of Coe Park on the Redfern Ranch. Removing common fences would greatly expand hiking and equestrian use in the Coit and Kelly Lakes region of the park.
The State Public Works Board approved acquisition of the upper 11,211 acres of the Redfern Ranch at a meeting on January 22, 1993. The purchase price was $5,600,000 ($500 per acre). State funds earmarked for the purchase were available under the California Wildlife, Coastal, and Park Land Conservation Bond Act of 1988 and Assembly Bill 1580 of September 1989. Rancher Floyd Redfern was granted three years to phase out his cattle operation.
In 1996, neighbors Don and Carol Silacci decided to sell the valley of Hunting Hollow to the State as an addition to Henry W. Coe State Park. Carol is the granddaughter of pioneer settler George Milias, and the Hunting Hollow property had been in the Milias family since the 1880s. In May 1997, the State acquired 930 acres, the bulk of the valley land. In December of that year, the remaining 538 acres in the northwest corner, sandwiched between the Redfern property and the "old" (1985) and "new" (May 1997) Silacci parcels, completed the "puzzle" of all the land south of Gilroy Hot Springs Road and east of Cañada de Los Osos Road.
In March 1998, this parcel officially opened to public use, and a Grand Opening was held in May. Public parking is restricted at this time to the first meadow, and access is provided into the valley via a walk-through gate. The Hollow has proven to be a very popular recreation spot with hikers, mountain bicyclists, and equestrians enjoying the long flat valley and the trails ascending to the ridges and peaks of the Redfern.
In 2000 and 2001, The Nature Conservancy purchased 5,445 acres on the Palassou Ridge southwest of Coe Park. In 2001 the State purchased that property from the Nature Conservancy for $2 million. Private property and Santa Clara County Open Space land not open to the public currently border this property, thus limiting public access. Easement, private land purchase talks, and proposed trail routes are currently under investigation to open this area to the public.