After eight years in limbo, Palo Corona Regional Park may finally get its parking lot.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Palo Corona Regional Park contains 4,526 of the most scenic public acres in coastal Monterey County. But they’re also among the least visited. A group making the 2.6-mile round trip from Highway 1 to Inspiration Point and back last Saturday – through grassland and oak groves to a picturesque perch overlooking the Carmel coast – encountered just one other hiker.
After more than eight years in the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District’s hands, Palo Corona may finally get the parking lot it needs to allow easier public access.
For now, getting into the park is fairly complicated. Hikers must apply for one of 13 access permits issued daily for the Highway 1 entrance, or one of 8 permits for the east entrance from the South Bank Trail, at least two weekdays in advance. People entering from the highway unlock the gate using a code printed on the permit and sign in.
Tim Jensen, the district’s planning and conservation manager, says the district board has approved conceptual designs for a 50-space parking lot and aims to have it built by October.
“LIMITING ACCESS TO 13 VEHICLES A DAY – THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG ABOUT THAT.”
“Our intent is to eliminate this permit system so people can just come into the park and enjoy it,” he says. “Limiting it to 13 vehicles a day – there’s something wrong about that.”
It’s a long time coming. Big Sur Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy transferred Palo Corona to the regional park district and the California Department of Fish and Game in 2004. The $37 million purchase price was funded primarily by three state agencies, with $5 million coming from the park district.
The district wanted to open Palo Corona Regional Park to the public as soon as possible, Jensen says, but a general development plan would have taken almost a decade to pull together. The county granted the district an interim use permit in 2006, allowing for the current apply-to-hike system.
The sticking point: parking. The district’s only deeded access from the west entrance is along the highway shoulder, despite four years searching for another property. “We’ve gone down several dead-ends in terms of parking,” Jensen says. “By 2010 it was like, OK, let’s just use our road. The demand for public access is getting stronger.”
District staff now have a draft design for a parking lot below the historic Lower Fish Barn and have started conversations with the permitting agencies, Jensen says: “Things are looking green-lightish.”
The district has $200,000 left from a Big Sur Land Trust grant used to build and improve trails along the park’s west side, Jensen says. He estimates it will cover the parking lot but not the needed Highway 1 mitigations: a left-hand turn channel for southbound traffic and a wider northbound shoulder. Those projects, overseen by the California Department of Transportation, will require about $700,000 from the district’s general fund.
The plans will be vetted by the district board, the county and the California Coastal Commission. Even if the parking lot is built by the fall, Jensen says, it may not be usable until the highway improvements are done.
For open-space advocates, it’s worth the wait. Lana Weeks, the land trust’s director of philanthropy, says opening Palo Corona is a key step in a long-term vision for public parks connecting Carmel and Big Sur.
“Any time you get into land-use issues like traffic and parking, it’s tough,” she says. “Personally, I think it’ll be the California park of the century once it’s online.”