Leander Sawyer bought some land in 1853 in an isolated valley to the west of the only road up and down the Peninsula, which was El Camino Real. He set up business by an old laurel tree, and was able to support himself by selling food to picnickers and campsites for visitors/travelers who were traveling through on the stagecoach road that traversed the valley.
The stagecoach arrived at the Spring Valley property that Sawyer owned on its daily run from San Mateo to Half Moon Bay. To keep the weeds down in the area, Sawyer grazed cattle in the 1850s and 1860s. At one time, performing circus horses were trained in the area also. Eventually a small hotel was erected along the San Mateo Creek in the Spring Valley. This road was later renamed the San Andreas Valley Road. The name San Andreas Valley was coined by Father Francisco Palou while he and explorer Fernando Rivera camped here on a return trip from San Francisco in November 1774. They camped underneath a magnificent laurel tree that was later named for a noted botanist in California, Willis Linn Jepson. The tree is more than 600 years old and is the oldest and largest known laurel tree in California.
The entire valley was originally a 4,448 acre grant given by the Spanish government to Domingo Feliz, grandson of José Antonio Sanchez. The grant was later broken up and sold to numerous individuals for recreation purposes, a hotel and dairies.
The Spring Valley Water Company, headquartered in San Francisco, became the primary water supplier of the metropolis of San Francisco. However, as the water supply was inadequate at the tip of the Peninsula, the Spring Valley Water Company sought land on the Peninsula to build dams to supply the city with more water.
In 1862, the Spring Valley Water Company began purchasing land around the Spring Valley, and it built a dam in 1863 on the Pilarcitos Creek. In 1868, after more land was acquired, they built the San Andreas dam in the northern part of the Spring Valley. Additional purchases of land allowed them to build two more dams, one south of State Route 92 and the final one on the San Mateo Creek. The construction of the San Mateo Creek dam began in 1887 and produced the lower Crystal Springs Reservoir. By 1888, the hotel and much of the road in the valley were flooded by the Crystal Springs reservoir, with only a small section of the road remaining high and dry.
An access road on the east side of the valley, paralleling the lake, was constructed after the reservoir was formed. A pleasant gravel road, it traveled from the San Mateo Dam, following the valley to the north of the lake, crossed the San Andreas Dam and exited onto Hillcrest Boulevard in Millbrae. In 1978, however, the road was closed to motorized vehicles and blacktopped, and a linear park was formed. Today, Sawyer Road in the Crystal Springs Watershed attracts more than 300,000 visitors a year. They come mainly to walk, hike or bike along the pristine watershed area of the San Francisco Water Department.
It was a wonderful experience in the 1960s and ’70s to drive or hike along this trail, pass the San Andreas reservoir, dip into the cool, verdant valley south of the reservoir and stop wherever one liked to take a quiet walk or listen to the water passing by in the creek.
There are more than 180 different species of birds that have been identified in the area for all to see. Close to 50 species of mammals including: deer, bobcats, squirrels, coyotes and mountain lions can be observed at times in this biosphere reserve. Also, beware, there are some rattlesnakes, but they are rarely seen. Plants abound everywhere, and one can see manzanita, Monterey cypress, Monterey pine, as well as varieties of eucalyptus, toyon, sunflowers, grass, thistles to name a few. And that extraordinary giant laurel tree.
The trail is administered by the San Mateo County Parks Department and it is readily accessible from the area of the Crystal Springs Dam on Skyline Boulevard, west of San Mateo. There is also an entrance at the western edge of Hillcrest Boulevard in Millbrae. In addition, there has been added a section from San Bruno Avenue (the San Andreas Trail) in western San Bruno. This section is very popular for walkers and hikers and it is connected with the Sawyer Trail road at Larkspur Avenue in Millbrae. The section leading to Hillcrest Avenue is yet to be paved.
In the future, the trail that ends by the Crystal Springs Dam is to be extended to the Pulgus Water Temple and Woodside area further south and the entire trail is to be renamed Crystal Springs Trail. At the Crystal Springs entrance, a number of benches have been donated by people appreciative of the beauty and comfort a stroll into this sylvan wilderness affords. Thank you Carp family, Graff family, Shui-Chung family and the Huening family.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.