Hollister Hills State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA)

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An environmental summary by the ENVS 560/L Watershed Systems class at CSUMB.

The Hollister Hills State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA) is located just south of the City of Hollister in San Benito County, California (Image 1). The park became a designated SVRA as part of the Chappie-Z'Berg Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Law as a state-wide effort to reduce the negative environmental impacts of OHV riding.[1]

Image 1. Hollister Hills SVRA located in San Benito County, California. [1]


The Hollister Hills State Vehicle Recreation Area (SVRA) began as 600 acres of privately owned land purchased by Jesse Whitton after an expedition through the area with John C. Fremont in 1846.[2] In 1959, Jesse Whitton's great grandson, Howard Harris, inherited the land and created a privately operated motorcycle park in the 1950s.[3][4]

Off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation became increasingly popularized in the 1970s through the onset of dirt bike and motocross racing,[5] and the desire to ride motorcycles off paved roads surged.[5] Unmanaged and unrestricted OHV use began raising environmental concerns, resulting in recognition of the need for designated spaces for regulated OHV recreation.[4][6]
Map of the Hudner and Renz acquisitions to the SVRA [7]
In 1975, the Hollister Hills SVRA was acquired by the California Department of Parks and Recreation and became the first of nine SVRAs in California as part of as a state-wide effort to reduce the negative environmental impacts of OHV riding reduce the negative environmental impacts of OHV riding.[4]

Hudner and Renz Acquisitions

From the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, the SVRA acquired just over 3000 acres of land through the purchasing of two adjacent parcels to the north and northeast of the park.[7]

Mudstone Ranch

The Mudstone ranch makes up the northern side of the SVRA. In 2016, this area was opened to the public, and is specifically dedicated to hiking, non-motorized biking, and equestrian use. Additionally, a number of cattle ranchers still use the ranch for grazing purposes. [8] Mudstone Ranch is considered a buffer zone between the motorized trails and nearby housing developments. Maintaining this buffer zone helps to reduce noise from the vehicular use at the SVRA.

Park Amenities

The park encompasses 6,800 acres of land and a total of 152 miles of trails, 128 of which are designated for OHV use only.[4] A map of all trails within the SVRA can be found here. While the park is popular for its OHV trails, it also provides several other amenities and recreational opportunities including:

  • Hiking, biking, and equestrian riding trails
  • Motocross tracks
  • Camping
  • Special events including:


Since it's inception, Hollister Hills SVRA has been carefully managed to achieve environmental sustainability while simultaneously balancing the community's desire for vehicular recreation.

Environmental Challenges

Image 2. Erosional features caused by trails in Hollister Hills SVRA. Image from GoogleEarth.

OHV use can affect soil, vegetation, wildlife, air and water quality, and overall watershed function. Specific environmental effects include[9][10]:

  • Loosening/removal of topsoil and soil compaction
  • Gullying/erosion (Image 2)
  • Increased severity of landslides
  • Reducing vegetation cover through:
    • Crushing/breaking
    • Diminished plant growth from soil compaction
    • Disrupting photosynthesis from dust
    • Permitting encroachment of invasive plant species by reducing native plant cover
  • Wildlife disturbance through
  • Sedimentation, high turbidity, and pollution in aquatic ecosystems
  • Decreased air quality from dust and combustion by-products

Environmental Impact Reports

1977 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) & SVRA Plan

Following the acquisition of Hollister Hills SVRA into the California State Park system in 1975, an EIR was prepared to support the development of the recreation area. This document identified a number of impact mitigation measures that are summarized below: [11]

  • Erosion control and management through:
    • Addressing problems while they're still minor
    • Restricting recreation use that causes severe or uncontrollable erosion
    • Using "rotation and rest" techniques allowing for the natural rehabilitation of an erosion event
    • Construction of catchment basins and diffusion of water from the basins to reduce downstream erosion
  • Revegetation by means of discing, seeding, and the application of hay and fertilizer.
  • Reduction of air and noise pollution by discouraging visitors from "revving" their engines.
  • Cultural Resource protection through research, surveys, and storage and collection of artifacts prior to development.
  • Lowering of aesthetic impacts by designing trails away from highways or other high traffic viewsheds and the use of landscaping to hide objectionable views.
  • Mitigation of fire risk by requiring vehicle spark arresters, leveraging prescription burns, and restricting fires/smoking to specific areas
  • Wildlife Management through the encouragement of wildlife

1999 & 2001 Hollister Hills SVRA Hudner and Renz Acquisitions EIR

Following the creation of the Hollister Hills SVRA in the mid-1970s, State Parks determined that acquiring adjacent parcels would be beneficial to the unit. The acquisition required the creation of an EIR, and mitigation/monitoring measures are briefly described below: [7]

  • Geologic hazards:
    • Following seismic activity reconnaissance of all trails will be conducted and any damages to roads or trails will be addressed with a restoration program.
    • Historic and recent landslide areas will be monitored for change, specifically in the spring, especially after wet winters.
  • Biologic Resources:
    • Preconstruction surveys will identify locations of any special status species
    • Trails and other facilities will be located and constructed in a manner that does not impact special status species
    • A invasive plant management program will be implemented to minimize the spread of non-native or invasive species
    • Trails and other facilities will be placed to minimize tree removal
      • Trees that are removed for construction will be replaced in a 3:1 ratio
  • Air Quality:
    • Dust will be minimized via the application of water or soil stabilizers to all parking areas, staging areas, and access roads.
    • Organized events will be scheduled when soil moisture levels aid with the minimization of dust

Environmental Compliance and Sustainable Practices

In 2006, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California State Parks updated the 1991 Soil Conservation Guidelines and Standards for OHV Recreation Management, to include the use of a trail erosion rating system, maintenance of OHV trails, and annual monitoring of trail erosion. The updated standards led to expansion of best management practices (BMPs) in the park to reduce erosion and prevent transport of sediment out of park boundaries.[1] Some BMPs used by the Hollister Hills SVRA include the use of detention basins for capturing sediment eroded from trails and hydrologic monitoring to ensure no sediment is transported outside of the park.

Environmental Monitoring

The SVRA conducts dust and sound studies, and has contracted California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) to conduct annual detention basin surveys, hydrologic monitoring, and trail erosion studies. The reports can be found here.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Smith D, Chow K, Luna L. 2016. Six year summary of watershed studies at Hollister Hills State Recreational Vehicle Area: Fall 2010-2016. The Watershed Institute, California State Monterey Bay, Publication No. WI-2016-12, pp 94. http://ccows.csumb.edu/pubs/reports/CCoWS_HHSVRA_Summary_Fall2016_170111.pdf
  2. California State Parks. 2020. Hollister Hills SVRA. http://ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1179
  3. California State Parks. 2020. Hollister Hills SVRA. http://ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1179
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Lee E. 2020. off-road paradise. https://ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=29942
  5. 5.0 5.1 TMS Parts. 2019. The History of dirt biking and motocross. https://blog.tmsparts.com/history-of-dirt-bikes/
  6. Cordell H, Betz C, Green G, Stephens B. 2008. A national report from the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE). https://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/ohv/IrisRec1rpt.pdf
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 LSA Associates, Inc., Dillingham Associates, J.J. Van Houten & Associates, Inc., David Chavez Associates. Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area Final Environmental Impact Report for the Hudner and Renz acquisitions. February 2001.
  8. A news article about the grand opening of the Mudstone Ranch area: https://benitolink.com/hollister-hills-opens-mudstone-ranch-trails/
  9. Ouren D, Haas C, Melcher C, Stewart S, Ponds P, Sexton N, Burris L, Fancher T, Bowen Z. 2007. Environmental effects of off-highway vehicles on Bureau of Land Management lands: a literature synthesis, annotated bibliographies, extensive bibliographies, and Internet resources. https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1353/report.pdf
  10. Lazaroff C. Date unknown. Off-road vehicles create conflict in California. http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/mar2001/2001-03-09-06.html
  11. California Department of Parks and Recreation. Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area Resource Management Plan, General Development Plan, and Environmental Impact Report. August 1978.



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