Vasona Park, formerly Vasona Lake County Park, is a park located in Los Gatos, California and part of the Santa Clara County Parks system. Adjacent Oak Meadow Park is owned by the Town of Los Gatos. Vasona Park surrounds Vasona Reservoir, which, like Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos' southern edge, was formed by damming Los Gatos Creek. The reservoir is host to non-power recreational boating, and a marina on site has pedal boats for public rental in addition to docks and storage for small private sailing craft. Other popular water sports in the reservoir include kayaking and standup paddleboarding. The park is also home to the Youth Science Institute, several picnic pavilions, and several hiking/biking trails. The popular Los Gatos Creek Trail, which runs from Lexington Dam to just short of downtown San Jose, passes through the park. It is one of the most popular parks in the south bay.
The land within the park's boundaries is among the most historic in Los Gatos. The grantees of the "Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos", Jose Hernandez and Sebastian Peralta, constructed an adobe house on what is now one of the park's lawns. It was the first structure built in the area.
The 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge South Pacific Coast Railroad once traversed the western edge of the park en route to downtown and over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Felton and Monterey Bay at Santa Cruz Wharf. The Southern Pacific Railroad later acquired the South Pacific Coast Railroad and converted the line to standard gauge after the turn of the century. A farmer near Pollard Road, Albert August Vollmer, contacted the Southern Pacific asking for a flag stop to be established to allow a more convenient place to board the train. The railroad not only agreed, but allowed him to name the stop. He chose the name "Vasona", which was the name of his favorite pony during his childhood. "Vasona Junction" was the point on the line where the tracks split off from the San Jose-Campbell-Los Gatos mainline with the Vasona Branch through the Cupertino Hills to Palo Alto, allowing more direct travel to San Francisco. The name "Vasona" has reappeared locally ever since, including in the naming of the park. The dam was completed in 1934, and the railroad continued to run along the Western side of the reservoir until 1959. The railroad right-of-way over the reservoir is now University Avenue.
After the death of Southern Pacific engineer Billy Jones in 1968, a volunteer-led movement secured part of the park's southern end for the reconstructed, 18 in (457 mm) gauge Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, a miniature railway which Jones ran around his prune orchard on Winchester Boulevard and Daves Avenue. The depot and engine house, concessions and souvenir stand, and W.E. "Bill" Mason Carousel are all in Oak Meadow Park, a short walk from adjacent Vasona Park. The railroad operates weekends year-round as well as daily during school summer vacations. Steam locomotive No. 2, 100 years old in 2005, was once again made operable after being reboilered over the course of about a decade. The carousel building also houses a custom built band organ that plays from Wurlitzer 150 rolls. The organ was extensively rebuilt and upgraded to include a MIDI interface in 2012.
Vasona Science and Nature Center
Opened in 1980, the Youth Science Institute - Vasona Science and Nature Center is a youth science and nature education facility operated by the Youth Science Institute. The center features natural history exhibits, live animals found in the Guadalupe Watershed region and a native plant trail. The center offers nature and science school and group programs, after-school science and summer camp programs.
The Vasona center is the administrative headquarters for the Youth Science Institute.