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History of Planning Efforts for Coyote Lake County Park

Published on: 10/24/2013 10:15 AM
Coyote Lake County ParkThe Early Years - 1936 to 1990

Santa Clara's Coyote Lake County Park was established in 1969 when the County entered into a long-term lease with the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) to operate Coyote Lake for recreational purposes. The County Park included 760 acres owned by the SCVWD, including the 625 acre lake. This land, plus 36 acres of County Parks property, comprised the original park. Back in 1936, the SCVWD had built a dam on Coyote Creek that created the lake and leased out lands along its shoreline to private concessionaires for recreation. By the 1960's, efforts to provide improve water quality, as well interest in creating more public access, had led the SCVWD to conclude that private leases should be phased out at the lake. Under the new master lease, operation of all recreational activities became the responsibility of the Santa Clara County Parks while the SCVWD retained control of the lake's waters. (For an expanded summary see the Natural Diversity of Coyote Lake County Park).

From 1969 to 1990, County Parks made improvements to facilities at Coyote Lake that emphasized water based recreation. Boating, fishing, water skiing, camping, and swimming were popular pastimes. By 1979 any remaining leases for private cabin plots had expired. All of the cabins had been removed. In the late 1980's, Coyote Lake was designated as Secondary Drinking Water Sources by the SCVWD. As a result, (and to the disappointment of many county residents), swimming was prohibited at the lake. In 1989, Coyote Lake was drained by the SCVWD to construct new dam outlets. By now, California was experiencing a severe drought and facilities at Coyote Lake had reached buildout. The California Department of Dam Safety was also considering new seismic regulations that would eventually limit the lake level to 50% of capacity, thereby impacting boating and fishing.

The Recent Past - 1990 to 1997

In light of increasing water restrictions at Coyote Lake juxtaposed against rising demand for outdoor recreation in the County, the Parks Department began a master planning effort in the early 1990's. As one of its goals, the 1992 Draft Master Plan sought to look beyond water based recreation for the area. The 1992 Plan outlined an ambitious plan to diversify recreation at Coyote Lake and meet the demands for many types of recreation otherwise unavailable in the area. In 1993, the Draft Master Plan was put on hold pending the outcome of a countywide SCVWD Watershed Management Study. The Watershed Management Study would address many long-term issues related to water resources in the County. To date, the Management Study has not been completed due to the complex scope of the study.

In 1997, the County Parks and Recreation Department acquired 2,940 acres of the former Harvey Bear Ranch and 711 acres of the adjacent Mendoza Ranch. The families of the former owners wished that these properties be retained as open space and parklands in memory of their parents. It is envisioned that these lands will be incorporated into Coyote Lake County Park.

Planning Efforts Today

Coyote Lake County Park is now a much larger park than was addressed in the 1992 Draft Master Plan. The original 796-acre park has been expanded with the above-noted acquisitions by an additional 3,652 acres, encompassing the entire western side of Coyote Lake, the ridgeline and lands west of the ridge. The regional context of area has also changed. Since 1992, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, has acquired the 9000 acre Lakeview Meadows Ranch directly east of Coyote Lake. A significant number of acres have been added to nearby Henry Coe State Park and another 11,000 acres are planned there, pending public approval. Meanwhile, rapid suburbanization of southern Santa Clara County has occurred. It was determined that a new master plan effort would be required to make considered and informed decisions about the use and management of Coyote Lake County Park for the next twenty years.

Starting with a kickoff meeting in November 2000, the Department began a new master plan study for the area, called Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch Master Plan. It is anticipated that this effort, involving extensive cataloging of natural resources, sensitive habitats, emerging trends and use patterns of parks visitors, and the direct involvement of the local community will take approximately two years to complete.

The new Master Plan will consider earlier planning efforts, best management practices, and cost/benefit analysis of any proposed new uses, It will also focus on diversifying water and land-based recreation, as well as the preservation and enhancement of the park's natural resources.
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