Serving as the General Manager of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for almost a decade, Steve Abbors helped the agency create a 40-year plan and pass a $300 million bond to fund it; he recently spoke to us about favorite experiences and local hikes. Along with Rue Mapp, CEO of Outdoor Afro, he will be honored at this year’s Nature’s Inspiration.
A favorite encounter in nature
It’s hard to pick a favorite encounter in nature, but one in particular does stand out. Dr. Robert C. Stebbins, the dean of western reptiles and amphibians and a long-time UC Berkeley zoology professor, was a dear friend family friend. Our families traveled many places together and Yosemite was one of places we tried to visit every spring. Dr. Stebbins mentioned to me on more than one occasion how he wished he had been able to see a great gray owl (as did I), but, alas, it was not to be while he was alive.
Dr. Stebbins passed away on September 23, 2013 at the age of 98+ and so, on the anniversary of his 100th birthday, my wife Carlene and I decided to go to Yosemite to remember him. About 2 miles into the McGurk Meadow Trail, we noticed a large bird fly into the fir trees about 50 yards away. It was the elusive great gray owl. It perched in the fir for several minutes while I photographed it, then dropped down and captured a mouse. After it ate the mouse, it flew right over our heads and we did not see it again. Carlene and I were dumbstruck and to this day believe that great gray owl was really Dr. Stebbins appearing to say hello.
Standout places to hike
My favorite place to hike while I lived on the Peninsula was the PG&E Trail (the Midpen Board of Directors renamed it the Stephen E. Abbors Trail to honor my contributions to the District) in Rancho San Antonio County Park and Open Space Preserve located in Cupertino. I used to hike it every day after work as it was a place to see many of the local wild animals up close. This is because it is a hiking-only trail – no bicycles or dogs – and as a result the wildlife is unusually approachable. I would frequently have close encounters with deer, bobcats, Merriam’s chipmunk, brush rabbits, pale swallowtails, golden hairstreaks, variable checkerspots, western newts, southern alligator lizards, western fence lizards, ring-necked snakes, band-tailed pigeons, golden eagles, white-tailed kites, Cooper’s hawks, and blue-gray gnatcatchers depending on the season and the list of species just goes on and on.
It is the busiest Midpen preserve by far, so it’s best to avoid the weekends. But the gradual uphill climb two to three miles in will always yield some close sightings of the local wildlife, including mountain lions, so don’t go alone at dusk or dawn. There is no better way to develop an appreciation for nature than to be with it – with the real thing, not a virtual representation.