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After more than 51 years, Palo Alto’s Foothills Park is finally open to the public

After more than 51 years, Palo Alto’s Foothills Park is finally open to the public
Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via Leijurv
By Matt Charnock - Published on January 05, 2021.

Foothills Park, the notoriously inaccessible green space in Palo Alto that's been off-limits to the public for decades, is now open for anyone to enjoy — marking an end to its decades-old status as an, exclusive private park.

For denizens of the Bay Area, there are now fifteen more miles of local trails to explore after the 1,400-acre “nature lover’s paradise” opened itself up to the public back in mid-December. The elusive greenspace was limited to only Palo Alto residents and their guests for over five decades, a restriction put in place in the '60s — and had existed, without change, ever since.

That is, however, up until December 17 when Foothills Park unlocked its gates to anyone interested in exploring the area’s ten designated hiking and biking trails, and multiple wildlife watching positions. Currently, only 750 visitors are allowed daily into Foothills Park, with that number increasing to 1,000 guests sometime in March. 

While access into Foothill Park isn’t free, the $6 entrance fee allows visitors to explore the park’s famous Monkey Island and Bodega Lake, as well as sponge up the gorgeous views atop Vista Point. Foothill Parks, as we mentioned before, also lends itself to great wildlife watching because its acres sit inside a multitude of habitats, among them green pastures and forested lowlands; bobcat and deer sightings are quite common.

Portions of the Arastradero Preserve, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, and Foothills Open Space Preserve are all included in Foothills Park’s total acreage — which equates to roughly ten percent of all the land in Palo Alto.

As it stands right now, the park’s public access is part of a pilot program by the City of Palo Alto after it was approved in a 5-2 vote on November 3, 2020. (The vote to rescind the park of its private status came after heavy backlash — and an ACLU-filed lawsuit on behalf of the local NAACP chapter — that the park’s restriction to only permit residents inside was an infringement on certain constitutional rights and an echo of Jim Crow-era segregation practices.)

Because of mandated COVID-19 safety protocols, all individual BBQs — except for the spaced-out ones in Orchard Glen’s picnic area — as well as the park’s Interpretive Center and canoe rental shop, are closed. Certain on-site amenities like public bathrooms, benches, and water fountains are still operational, albeit “with some limitations.”

Guests are encouraged to practice proper mask-wearing and maintain a proper social distance from other visitors whilst in the park.

Foothills Parks is presently open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m; visit www.cityofpaloalto.org/gov/depts/csd/parks/preserves/foothills for more information.