Public Access to Farmland…in the San Francisco Bay Area

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Holy cow! Its just like going for a walk in England! In my recent trip to California I decided to investigate the footpaths in the area. As usual, I tried to find the countryside that is the most beautiful – farmland –  and expected to be able to indulge in my favorite complaint: how all paths in the US are in specially created parks that aim to create the ‘wilderness’ experience, which means that you spend the whole day walking through forest, unable too anything further than the nearest tree trunk. To my surprise, I found that there are plenty of areas of beautifully farmed land to which the public has access.

In Britain, in common with most European countries, there is no wilderness left and the countryside is privately owned farmland. This doesn’t stop people being able to feel a connection with the land and enjoy it, however, for there is widespread public access to private land. It is the remnant of the traditional Catholic understanding of land as a ‘common good’. If you are surprised by this you can read about exactly how in an earlier article Farms, Country Walks, Private Property and the Common Good. I enjoy farmland because it is more beautiful than the wilderness, if farmed well. The New World obsession with the ‘wilderness experience’ as exposure to pristine beauty  (strongest of all in New Zealand in my experience) is a reflection of the New Age paganism, which sees man as an unnatural influence on a perfect Nature, rather than a positive influence that raises a fallen world up to something greater.

0407131118It is the same worldview that gives rise to the culture of death. When the activity of man is viewed as necessarily unnatural, then human activity is seen as something that should be limited. The easiest way to do so is to enforcing population control; and the obvious ways to achieve this are abortion and contraception.

As well as contributing to making my visit to the Bay Area very enjoyable, these parks are a small symbol of hope for me. I visited two areas. The first is called Briones Regional Park. I am always curious as to why we are allowed onto this land. This is preserved as pastureland because it is the watershed lands that fill the reservoirs that supply water to much of the region. The regional government that leases the land, as I understand it, insists also that there is public access. Trees would suck up too much water so the land is kept for pasture. It has been ranched for about 200 years (since the Spanish colonial days) and so the terrain has been formed by that. At this time of year there is a lot of rain and so everything is lush and green – even the locally produced descriptions remark on how like English countryside it looks. 

The second area is called Lucas Valley and it is in Marin County which is north of the Golden Gate bridge. Much of the valley is own by the film producer George Lucas, but I am told that the matching names are coincidence. What is interesting about this is that we have an arrangement forged between private landowners so that people can enjoy the scenery. I know this because at he beginning of the walk I saw the following notice (perhaps noblesse oblige isn’t dead after all!):

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So here are some photos of the walk. First Briones Regional Park in the East Bay:

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The second area is Lucas Valley.

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In the height of spring both of these areas will be filled with wild flowers. It is a little early for the full display, but I took some snaps of some of those that I saw as well.

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David Clayton

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David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993. Visit the Way of Beauty blog at thewayofbeauty.org.

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