New Yorkers love their Central Park, designed for them by Frederick Law Olmstead. That may have been the inspiration for E.G. Lewis’ Sunken Gardens right here in the middle of his 1913 model city.
But Atascadero has an equally treasured park less than 1,000 feet from the city Administration Building, Pine Mountain and Stadium Park, designed by the best — Mother Nature.
This 26-acre park features several trails, such as the Blue Oak Trail, Pine Mountain Loop Trail and the ALPS (Atascadero Land Preservation Society) Trail, Marj Mackey Meadow and the latest, the Bill Shepard Native Plant Garden, which features 70 drought-tolerant plants, trees and shrubs all clearly identified for visitors.
And even if you don’t feel like hiking, the Bill Shepard garden is right at the entrance to the whole 26 acres and serves up a great display of plants that you could use on your own piece of Atascadero property.
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You will find the entrance at the intersection of Capistrano and Hospital roads.
You can walk into Stadium Park by heading straight past the entrance kiosk, which was put in place by ALPS members. This group has been saving pristine pieces of Atascadero real estate from commercial development since it was first formed more than 20 years ago.
The newest trail takes off to the left of the Shepard garden with some zigzag paths heading up the hill. It takes you toward the top of Pine Mountain, where you get wonderful views of Atascadero’s downtown with the Administration Building right in the center.
Pine Mountain has been important to Atascadero even before E.G. Lewis purchased the ranch. Dorothy Lowe, in her excellent book, “Camp Atascadero,” chronicles the years from 1904 to 1912, when American soldiers trained here.
In fact, her book includes a photograph of troops “entrenched” on Pine Mountain waiting for the advancing enemy, played by other American soldiers.
When the deed for the Atascadero ranch was handed over to Mabel Lewis on the Fourth of July in 1913, a flag was raised on Pine Mountain. Two years later, residents of Tent City were using Pine Mountain’s natural amphitheater as a meeting place for church services, dances, pageants and even a speech by a California governor. Atascadero’s Federated Church (now ABC Church) grew out of those worshipers meeting into what is today called Marj Mackey Meadow.
The city and ALPS should be commended for making sure this park was not developed into condominiums, which almost happened in the 1990s.
It is a wonderful place to go for a stroll or a more brisk hike on any of the trails that climb up out of the bowl.