Hope pings for Mt. Umunhum radar tower

The preservation of a five-story Cold War-era radar tower atop Mt. Umunhum took another step forward Wednesday when the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space board of directors voted unanimously to preserve the landmark.

Effectively, the board voted to accept a decision last month by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to preserve the tower when the supervisors placed it on a Heritage Resource Inventory.

Four years ago, the open space’s board decided to wait to October 2017 to make a decision whether to preserve or demolish the tower to give preservation advocates time to raise money and for the public to get an idea of what it would be like to keep it there.

But the decision by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors eliminated a need for a decision by the open space.

Still, President of the Umunhum Conservancy Sam Drake said his group, which was formed to preserve the tower, is pleased with the board’s decision:

“We’re very happy with the action the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space board of directors took last night.”

Area residents have a personal connection to the tower because many worked there or their parents worked there.

Drake said:

“There used to be an entire town up there. … It’s a local landmark.”

But contrary to the wishes of some, there is no plan in place now at least to give people the opportunity to go inside, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space spokeswoman Amanda Kim said.

“It would be extremely cost prohibitive” to make the inside of the tower accessible, Kim said.

Repairs to the tower are expected to cost more than $1.2 million. In 2012, annual maintenance was estimated at $12,500. Also, neither electricity nor running water is available any more on the mountain, Kim said.

The tower was in operation from 1958 to 1980 to scout for incoming bombers that might drop a nuclear weapon on U.S. soil.

But the tower but went obsolete with the advent of missiles that could carry a nuclear weapon to the U.S. from thousands of miles away. Now satellites monitor the air for those missiles, Drake said.

Currently, the summit of Mt. Umunhum is not open to the public, but it may be by this fall or next spring. Plans for the summit consist of, among other things, interpretation of the biological, military and Native American histories of the mountain.

Kim said the Ohlone people believe humans originated from Mt. Umunhum, a story that goes back 10,000 to 15,000 years.