As the Big Sur community continues recovering from a crucible of fire and flood over the past few years, it is taking baby steps toward addressing what has become a vexing problem for the iconic destination: overtourism.
On Sunday, May 27, Parks Management Company, which manages the day-use parking lot at Pfeiffer Beach, turned away more than 1,000 cars from the top of Sycamore Canyon Road because the parking lot at the beach, which has 65 spaces, was full.
But, unlike any Sunday before May 27, there was another option to get to the beach besides walking (which is now illegal on the road): a paid shuttle service from Big Sur Station, a nearby multi-agency facility with a parking lot and interpretive center.
The shuttle comes by way of Big Sur resident Weston Call, whose business, Sur Transportation, ran a shuttle from Andrew Molera State Park to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park last year when Highway 1 was closed at Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge due to a storm-related mudslide. His shuttle, which gave residents and tourists access to a bypass trail around the road closure, provided evidence that a shuttle can work in Big Sur, and helped inspire the advent of the Pfeiffer Beach shuttle.
Call, who launched the shuttle service, May 24, says he maxed out two 14-passenger shuttles on Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. (Each trip takes about 20 minutes per leg, and the shuttles run from 11am to 7pm every Thursday through Sunday; it costs $10 to park at Big Sur Station, $5 for the shuttle.)
Butch Kronlund, president of the Coast Property Owners Association, has been among the residents leading the charge in recent years to address overuse of Sycamore Canyon Road – which is narrow, and effectively a one-way street in some sections – and he sees this as a crucial first step following months of meetings with various stakeholders.
“Big Sur is being proactive instead of reactive, and I’m really proud of that,” Kronlund says. He, along with Call, credit a long list of those who’ve helped make the shuttle a reality: the U.S Forest Service, State Parks, the California Coastal Commission, the offices of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta and County Supervisor Mary Adams, county planning staff, Caltrans, nonprofit Los Padres Forest Association and Parks Management Company.
The length of that list speaks to the challenges of getting things done in Big Sur – many parties need to come together.
Call’s shuttles are utilizing a parking lot that normally serves the popular Pine Ridge Trail, which is currently closed indefinitely due to storm damage from 2017. Whether or not the shuttle continues when the trail reopens is an open question. For now, Call is focused on proving that the concept can work. “This is a demonstration project,” he says.