When the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge was condemned in March after mudslides made it unstable, it brought great hardship to many in the Big Sur community – but it also presented an opportunity.
With tourist access cut off from the north, as well as from the south due to landslides along Highway 1, it was a chance for community members to put their heads together and come up with collaborative solutions for the overuse problems plaguing Big Sur.
Primary among those problems was traffic along Sycamore Canyon Road, a county road managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which has an easement for the road to provide access to Pfeiffer Beach, which the Forest Service acquired in 1906.
Butch Kronlund, president of the Coast Property Owners Association, was hoping that by the time Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge reopened Oct. 13 and public access was restored to Pfeiffer Beach, there would have been a plan in place to close Sycamore Canyon Road to non-residential traffic, and have it only accessible to tourists via a shuttle.
The beach’s popularity has skyrocketed since the advent of smartphones and social media, and Kronlund says up to 600 cars a day drive down the narrow, winding road. There are only 65 parking spaces at Pfeiffer Beach – which is managed by Parks Management Company, which earns revenue from those parking at the site – and some tourists opt to park on Highway 1 and walk the two miles to the beach.
“The residents are not anti-public,” Kronlund says. “This is just a health-and-safety issue. Somebody’s going to get killed here.”
On Oct. 4, Kronlund sent a letter to Teresa Benson, acting forest supervisor of the Los Padres National Forest, pleading for a new management plan for the beach that would require shuttle access.
Weston Call, whose Sur Transportation shuttle service expanded its operations to serve tourists during the bridge closure, says he met with Forest Service and Parks Management officials Oct. 11, and feels like a solution is possible.
He’s worked out a tentative plan with Bryan Conant, executive director of the nonprofit Los Padres Forest Association, to potentially utilize – pending approvals – the multi-agency facility parking lot that LPFA manages at the Pine Ridge trailhead, which is currently closed indefinitely due to storm damage.
“I’d like to give it a shot,” Conant says.
Parks Management co-owner Gina Corrales says the issue is complicated, and negotiating a solution will take time: “If it was easy, it would have been done already.”
Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams, whose District 5 includes Big Sur, says addressing traffic on Sycamore Canyon Road is a "top priority" for her office, and adds that she's been applying pressure to the county's planning department to see that a solution is found.
She adds that she is continuing to work to find a shuttle solution, and that she is deeply concerned about health and safety issues regarding the road.
Editor's Note (10/18/17): The current version of this story has been updated from the print version to include comments from Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams, who reached out to the Weekly after this story went to print.