New $2M wildlife corridor, trail in Santa Cruz Mountains gets OK

A conceptual image shows an undercrossing beneath Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains that would allow safe passage for wildlife. (Image courtesy of Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District)

Both hikers and wildlife will be able to better enjoy the Santa Cruz Mountains after the Highway 17 Wildlife and Trail Crossings Project is completed.

Last week, the state Legislature included in the budget a proposal to fund the project, which will connect more than 30,000 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The proposal consists of $2 million to finish the project’s design and construction, which includes a wildlife undercrossing and a trail overcrossing on Highway 17 connecting Santa Cruz and San Jose through the mountains.

“The Highway 17 Wildlife and Trail Crossings Project will create a secure crossing for trail users to experience the beauty of our natural scenery and terrain while, at the same time, facilitating the safe movement of our wildlife in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” state Sen. Dave Cortese said in a statement.

Once the project is complete, wildlife should be able to find food and mates more easily. The project will also fill gaps in the Bay Area Ridge Trail and Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, while linking other local trails, Cortese office said.

The project, spawned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, will also improve highway safety by alleviating collisions between drivers and animals.

“One of the greatest challenges in furthering Midpen’s mission to preserve a connected greenbelt of public open space are land uses that fragment habitats and create barriers to the safe passage of wildlife, as well as people,” Midpen General Manager Ana Maria Ruiz said in a statement.

“Highway 17 fragments thousands of acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains, limiting the ability of animals like mountain lions to find food and mates, and blocking several regional trail connections,” she said.

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