210-Site Campground in New California Park
Pioneer John Marsh touched off a rush of wagon trains to California some 170 years ago when he wrote letters from his Brentwood home that described the area as a garden of Eden.
Now state park officials are preparing for a new era of visitation to Marsh's old ranch by unveiling a long-awaited plan to open a 3,600-acre state historic park there, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Planners propose to make Marsh's Gothic stone mansion along Marsh Creek a focal point for a visitor center, historic walks, talks and demonstrations to explain the area's rich history that spanned periods with ancient Indian villages, Mexican and American cattle ranches, and a modern farms.
The park would have up to 210 overnight campsites and another three group campgrounds, miles of hiking and riding trails, and up to 443 parking spaces — 158 of them for day-use visitors, according to a 256-page draft general plan for the park.
"This area has a unique cultural history," said Steve Bachman, the state park system's acting superintendent for the Diablo Vista district. "California Indians lived there for thousands of years before John Marsh came. The park protects natural resources important as habitat to people and wildlife."
Developing details of the park will require a careful balancing act in providing public access to the house and surrounding open space, yet protecting the natural and cultural resources, including an unknown number of Indian grave sites there, planners say.
The park proposal calls for more surveys to determine the burial site locations, so state park officials can plan how to avoid disrupting one when developing visitor facilities. A cultural resource field station would be established to provide a work area for archeological researchers.
The general plan said visitor programs at the Marsh house might be turned over to a concessionaire such as nonprofit group dedicated to educating the public about California history.
Park officials say they can't predict when the new park would open because they don't know when they will have money to develop and operate the park and finish the estimated $7.6 million job of restoring Marsh's stone mansion.
State park planners make no recommendation on what to name the park, although they are using Cowell Ranch/John Marsh as a temporary name.
Some history buffs say the park should be named after Marsh, but state park planners have suggested that other names should be considered to give recognition to the Indians that lived there and pioneers that passed through.
Marsh, a Harvard-educated doctor, immigrated to the East Bay in the 1830s. He became a cattle baron and wrote letters, published in many newspapers, that attracted many settlers to California before the Gold Rush.
Marsh was a colorful and controversial figure in early California history. One of his critics called him the "meanest man in California" because he was tight with money. Members of the John Marsh Historic Trust say Marsh was a trailblazer who played a significant role in settling California and the West.
Marsh was murdered over a pay dispute in 1856, just weeks after the completion of his stone mansion.