The Women Behind Bay Area Parks

Frog Lake, Henry Coe State Park

Frog Lake, Henry Coe State Park

I fall a little bit in love any time I read about a woman who was influential in the establishment of a park. This past week, I found out that we owe the existence of Henry Coe State Park, the largest state park in Northern California, to Sada Coe Robinson, Henry Coe’s daughter.

Sada Coe Robinson was born on December 7, 1910. At the time, the Coe family was living in San Jose. They still owned two ranches though: one in San Jose and one high up in the Diablo Range—Pine Ridge Ranch, located on a 3,000 foot ridge east of Santa Clara Valley.

View of the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains from Pine Ridge

View of the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains from Pine Ridge

Growing up, Sada helped her father on Pine Ridge Ranch, managed Pine Ridge Ranch for a short time in the 1930s, and eventually set up her own ranch in Gilroy with her husband, Charles Robinson. The Pine Ridge Association shares this quote from Sada’s book, The Lost Trails of Santa Clara County:

Here in the mountains there was no sense of time. Our clock was the sunrise and sunset. Days meant nothing . . . One day ran on into the next . . . Work went on from daylight to dark. Riding! Gathering! Branding!
— Sada Coe Robinson / Source: Pine Ridge Association

After her father’s death in 1943, Pine Ridge Ranch went to Sada’s brother, Henry Coe, Jr. while she inherited the family’s timberlands in Maine. Henry Jr. sold the ranch, but in 1949, Sada bought it back. She felt so passionate about preserving the land and sharing it with other Californians that on August 15, 1953, she donated Pine Ridge Ranch—12,230.5 acres—to Santa Clara County. On November 10, 1958, the State of California purchased it for $10.00 and established Henry Coe State Park. Over the years, the state acquired surrounding ranch lands, growing the park to over 87,000 acres. Today, it is the largest state park in Northern California and the second largest in California after Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Views east to Middle Ridge and Blue Ridge on the Flat Frog Trail

Views east to Middle Ridge and Blue Ridge on the Flat Frog Trail

Sada passed away in San Jose on November 2, 1979, but her gifts live on in every person that steps foot in Henry Coe State Park and reads her meditations on its wilderness.

The murmering hills sighed and whispered
softly as a distant lullaby
and I felt compelled to stop and listen.
The feeling of desolation gradually left me
and instead there was a strange sense of peace.
I felt a realization that nothing is ever lost.
There could be no death nor desolation...
but instead a vast spiritual life surrounded one.
The hills in their way could destroy and take from the flesh,
but in return their gift of a spiritual peace was eternal.
— Sada Sutcliffe Coe / Source: Pine Ridge Association

In time, I hope to write more about women who have been influential in California park history. For now, I recommend reading about Verna Dunshee, who was influential in enlarging Mount Tamalpais State Park and Point Reyes National Seashore, in this Verna Dunshee and Gardiner Fire Lookout trail guide. I also have a little bit written about Julia Pfeiffer Burns in an upcoming trail guide for Partington Cove in Big Sur that I will share once it is published.

Please add your suggestions for books or articles about women who inspired or influenced the development of a park in the comments below :)

Have a great weekend :)

The Corral Trail

The Corral Trail