Discovering Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park

October 29, 2013 

Many times I have driven the Golden Chain Highway 49 from Oakhurst to Mariposa. As one passes through Ahwahnee the Wasuma Elementary School appears on the right-hand side of the road. Just beyond the schools western border is the 241-acre Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park, with its steel main entrance gate. Although the gate has been locked for almost three years to the public and their vehicles, I was told there are no restrictions to hiking the trails put in place over three years ago. If you enjoy hiking. "The Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park," an all-volunteer group, installed a special access opening for hikers on the east fence line next to the Wasuma School baseball diamond.

With the government closures of our national parks, I started searching for new trails that one could enjoy locally. During my research the Ahwahnee Hills Park at only 2,400 feet in elevation caught my attention. Maybe I should check out this remote location in Ahwahnee set aside as a park with hiking trails.

On a bright Friday morning I entered the park through the opening and was impressed by how easy these trails were to follow, marked by signs reading; "hiking trail." Basically the three mile trail follows the perimeter of the park.

First the trail follows north to Peterson Creek. Then the trail continued west following up-stream along the creek which is lined with native California Laurel and California Buckeye bushes. The water run-off from the surrounding mountains has cut a unique pathway through the parks northern border. Through-out the park adding to the landscaping are old growth Valley and Live Oak trees. During the spring and fall this area should be ideal for that unique photo for personal memories.

Periodically this trail would intersect with the two miles of horse trails. Both will skirt along the 15-acre lake on the property. After passing the lake, if your hiking preference will be to stay on level ground, hike toward the buildings and paved parking lot. Then continue hiking toward the old red barn, soon the trail will lead back toward the fence entrance.

Now to complete the full three miles, follow the signs around the south side of the lake and continue climbing in elevation to the parks western border. At this point there is an alternate 100 yard trail (marked by a sign) to the parks summit. Now back-track to the main trail, turn right (south) and continue following this path to the buildings and parking lot. Look for the red barn and hike past it to the fence entrance to complete this three mile trek.

Depending on your personal physical condition, this is only a two to three hour trek and with a class rating of "easy to moderate."

The name Ahwahnee is an American Indian name which means "Deep Grassy Valley." This area was one of many locations that our American Indians settled into because of the abundance of game, acorns from the oak trees and fresh water flowing from the surrounding mountains into Peterson Creek.

Here is a brief summary of the parks colorful history. Its first registered owner was Franklin Dennis who homesteaded 160 acres in 1882. Then in 1891 passed title to Martin H. and Bessie Cassell who owned a total of 320 acres.

In 1892 it was purchased by Henry Washburn who owned a Stage Company operating between Raymond and Wawona. A few months later he sold and became partners with William Martin Sell Sr. Mr. Sell built the Ahwahnee Tavern which served the stage line and offered lunches for those continuing to Yosemite.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt had lunch at the tavern on his way to meet John Muir in Yosemite National Park. Other famous persons who shared their lunches at this tavern included Susan B. Anthony, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Crown Prince Albert of Belgium.

In 1918 the park was sold to three counties, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus to create a tri-county tubeculosis sanatorium. In 1969 it became a school for troubled boys which terminated in 1985. Today it is owned by Madera County and is maintained by the "Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park."

At present they are setting up facilities for a host-care taker. When this last obstacle is completed, the park should be open to the public for community events.

Check their website for additional information and if you have spare time they are looking for volunteers — ahwahneehillregionalpark.org.

When winter finally settles into our area and the first dusting of snow arrives, those remote areas within and around Yosemite become non-assessable to the hiker. The Ahwahnee Hills Park can give one that wilderness experience without the assistance of snow shoes or skies.

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