Palo Corona Regional Park is both a throwback and a new frontier.
What was once a sprawling ranch made history in 2004, when a coalition of nonprofits and public agencies pulled together a $37 million deal for the largest land conservation project in Monterey County. Ten years later, this December, the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District will make its final $1 million payment on the sprawling coastal hills at the breathtaking nexus of Carmel and Big Sur.
The 680-acre Palo Corona front country, the northern chunk of the park, opened to the public in 2006. But the 3,853 back country to the south remains closed while park managers work on a general development plan.
A select group of eight hikers and 14 bikers, however, have had the place to themselves a couple years. The two focus groups have been given permission to walk and cycle through the back country to provide recommendations to the district, according to MPRPD Planning and Conservation Manager Tim Jensen.
Now those recs are in, and Jensen is organizing the findings with maps and photos. They’re intended to help district leaders plan things like public trails, campsites and other facilities. The district is preparing to hire a consultant for the draft general development plan, with a target public release date in June.
Beginning in 2013, Darius Rike – a Marina resident and activist with the Monterey Off Road Cycling Association – and others in the bikers’ focus group would ride through the Palo Corona back country to make observations.
He compares the terrain to Henry Coe State Park in Morgan Hill, with its steep ridges, oak-studded grasslands and redwood-lined valleys.
Rike says his group mostly stayed on existing dirt roads and trails from the park’s former use as a ranch. He envisions several 3-to-5-mile loops through the oaks and redwoods to overlooks with views of the Carmel River mouth, Garrapata State Park and the Pacific. “For Monterey County mountain biking, there’s really no opportunity like this,” he says. “It’s that quiet, dark and still.”
Meanwhile, this district is planning to scrap the permit system for public access to the Palo Corona front country.
Current parking limitations mean people have to apply in advance for one of 13 vehicle permits off Highway 1. A 57-vehicle lot inside the park and highway improvements will eventually allow the public to use the park without a permit. Visit www.mcweekly.com/news for more on that – including an unexpected legal twist.