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Tom Stienstra

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The Mail Bag

I enjoy reading every letter that is sent to me. While I don't have time to answer each letter personally, I will pick letters and answer them on this site regularly. -Tom Stienstra

Off Limits? -
"Dear Tom: I have been in the Crystal Springs Watershed both legally and illegally, as I suspect maybe you have, and seen the houses, the lakes, and the picnic areas for use only by the S.F. Water Department employees. Kind of like their own private nature country club?"
Robert Nissenbaum

"If a public employee takes money or gifts for his/her own use, it's referred to as corruption. So, if public employees take something of high value (recreational opportunities) that is owned by the taxpayers, for their own use, why isn't this referred to as corruption?"
Phil McFaul

"Hey, being polite hasn't worked so let's storm the gates. Every nature freak in the Bay Area show up under your leadership, of course, and break down the barriers. They can't jail us all, S.F. doesn't have enough cells.?"
Nick in Mountain View

I've received hundreds of letters like these. The challenge of public access at off-limit watershed lands in the Bay Area foothills has become the No. 1 flashpoint among issues that affect outdoor recreation in the region.

This year I've received about 5,000 personal e-mails at two websites, and it's this continuing saga over access to Crystal Springs and other watershed lands just keeps popping up letters, over and over.

Crystal Springs is the marquee case for two reasons: 1. The S.F. Board of Supervisors ordered the Water Department to provide the Peninsula's missing link for the Bay Ridge Trail, from Sweeney Ridge to Highway 92 on nine miles of existing service roads. It's been 41/2 years since the order went out, and access is still zilch. 2. While the public is kept out, water department employees are living a dream life in subsidized housing in the watershed.

At the same time, nobody wants the natural qualities of these places undermined in any way, and some express fear that access could cause that.

"I have always had fears of nutty arsonists who might ruin the property with just one match."
William J. Denney, Burlingame

"My concern is for the purity and security of the drinking water."
Ron MacKenzie

"It seems to me that in this new era of very real security threats to our basic infrastructure, allowing more people into such a sensitive area is the very last thing we should contemplate."
Michael Taylor, Point Reyes Station

These are valid points, of course. As for fire, rangers at adjacent Sweeney Ridge told me that they tried to set controlled burns for brush control, but failed because they couldn't keep the fires lit.

Many others have noted that hundreds of other lakes and watershed lands, including some 40 lakes in the Bay Area, are accessible without degradation to water quality of security.

If the watersheds were truly pristine and untouched, that is, no homes, roads, boats, docks, cars, heavy equipment or quarries, parties and secret fishing, then it would make sense to keep watershed lands as true wilderness islands amid regional urbanization.

"My friends and I would be interested in going. What are the times of the tours?"
Stacy Goo

Tours are run in groups once per month by the Bay Ridge Trail Council, and they always filled by advance reservation. For information: (415) 391-9300

Finally, I get letters from people who have made the trip:

"When I was in my mid-teens, we used to sneak in and fish along the west bank in the little coves. It was the best. Kids with spinning rods hooking catching 18-inch plus trout all day long. The only bummer was the water company employees caught us on my last trip. Every time I drive by that place, I wonder if the fish are still there and what might happen if they caught a 59-year-old trying to sneak in there for one more try."
Steve Kyle

There have been many other recent provocative letters on many subjects:

Bay security zones -
"The new bay security zones surrounding our local airports will create new reserves and safety areas from overfishing and human intervention."
Xavier Raya de Zarate

Up on fog, down on Stienstra -
"Fog is unique to our city and surroundings, and what makes it (San Francisco) invigorating and unique among any major metropolitan area on Earth . . . Some "outdoorsman' you are."
Richard Kales

Hey, I lived on the coast for 15 years, so I've paid my fog dues; my attitude has always been whatever the day brings, that's good enough for me -- as long as I'm out there.

More on Shasta-Cascade -
"Sounds like you spend a lot of time in the Tahoe area. What about Northern California? Siskiyou and Lassen Counties?"
Rick Tidrow

I travel 40,000 miles per year, a fair amount of it around Mt. Shasta, and there is nowhere I won't go for a good adventure story.

And like Bill Tate always signs off: "Enjoy your wilderness."

Questions & Comments -
Questions & comments? I get 'em, tons and tons. Here's a representative sampling of the last 500 or so to be sent in, along with some responses:

The Siskiyou fish massacre -
"While I understand the need for local ranchers to divert some water for their own purposes, I am shocked by the flagrant and deliberate disregard of the law that these ranchers are exercising. Frankly, however I am more shocked by Department of Fish and Game's willingness to kowtow to such demands. It is a sad day in California when those that violate our laws dictate terms to those that enforce them."
Kyle Mizokami, San Francisco

I am making a request to the Fish and Game Commission that it order DFG Director Bob Hight to explain why the DFG allowed farming interests to violate Fish and Game Code Section 5937, where all of the water is being taken out of two streams, the Shasta and Scott rivers, creating the biggest fish kill in years, 5,000 trout, steelhead and salmon.

Don't write with your mouth full -
"Before you allow your readers to get all smug and defensive for animals, and self-righteous as they read about maltreated fish and unenforced rules, ask yourselves -- where does your water comes from? Hetch Hetchy, maybe? Where's your power come from? Oh, Hetch Hetchy again . . . You may also like to talk to one of these farmers and ranchers that city dwellers find so easy to demonize, even as they blithely buy milk and meat and potatoes and horseradish for their crab cocktail. For a really good question, ask them where these things are grown."
Kathleen M. Dias, Yreka

In a free country, no one is above the law.

The poltical connection -
"You are right on target with your views about the way Hight (DFG director), Gray Davis (governor), and DFG continually fail to protect our resources. Did the Guv really give the word?!"
Ben Taylor , Santa Rosa

When I called DFG Director Bob Hight, I was greeted with a glacial response by his secretary, and then explained, "All I want to know is who ordered the wardens to back off and not enforce the Fish and Game Code?" His eventual answer: ?.

Bears on the Peninsula? -
"Any possibility that bears might have established themselves in the Big Basin /Long Ridge /Portola State Park area?"
Richard Lohmann, San Mateo

I'm a believer that the different bear episodes reported recently in Santa Cruz Mountains, and now the landmark sighting on the Peninsula, was likely from the same bear. The size and description is a match. It is extremely unlikely that a population of bears is being established in the Santa Cruz mountains because of the difficulty in reaching the area from Los Padres National Forest south of Monterey.

Camping at Ahjumawi -
"You mentioned Ahjuwami Springs State Park, seven boat-in campsites, and the other being the Rat Farm launch. Would you recommend one of the sites over the other?"
Alan Shepp

Plan on camping at the boat-in sites at the state park, all run on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no camping at the Rat Farm boat launch. From Rat Farm over to the campsites, it's easy oaring or paddling, with a chance at a big fish or seeing a bald eagle along the way.

The ice chest saga, cont. -
"In one of your earlier columns, you mentioned some of the better coolers that kept the ice from melting . . .?"
John Callahan, Richmond

In response to that one little item, I keep receiving a letter nearly every day just like this. The answer is the Coleman Xtreme -- keeps ice for five days -- and solves the problem at camp: "Who's going into town to get the ice?"

How could you? -
"On your top ten list (of California's trout streams) . . . I saw the McCloud was not on that list. That is truly one of the most beautiful rivers on the whole west coast and it is full of fish as well. That is just my $.02."
Bjorn Stromsness, Mt. Shasta

The reason the McCloud doesn't make the list is because there isn't enough river for the number of rods out there, including several guides working every day, raking over the same spots.

Fishing at Big Basin -
"I'm going on a weekend family camping trip to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, near Santa Cruz. I want to do some freshwater, live-bait fishing, off the bank. Is there a reservoir or stream there that would accommodate me? Trout, bluegills, bass, catfish, whatever."
Paul Mico, Oakland

Big basin has no fishing. The nearest freshwater fishing to Santa Cruz is at Loch Lomond Res. near Ben Lomond and Pinto Lake near Watsonville. Both are detailed in the book California Fishing.

When? Where? -
"Ever since I read your article about a hike in the East Bay (Chabot) a few months ago, I have wanted to read your articles in the Chron. Where should I look each day? I mean, is there a pattern to where they are and when? Or is it random?"
Nancy Werner

They use usually let me in the paper on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with a few specials now and then, and most of the stories are archived at

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