Now that summer is in full swing, as many as 450 cars a day are making the two-mile-long trip down windy, narrow Sycamore Canyon Road in Big Sur to Pfeiffer Beach. Hundreds more cars are being turned away at the entrance to the road on Highway 1 for lack of capacity.
If everything had gone according to plan, there would have been a shuttle to scoop up the overflow from anearby parking lot and deliver them to the famous purple Pfeiffer sands. It would have been a repeat of the successful shuttle program envisioned and executed last summer by local resident Weston Call until his unexpected death at 32.
Call’s family wanted to honor his memory by reviving his idea and continuing a community service that had garnered widespread support. But despite a massive reservoir of goodwill, the myriad stakeholders – from residents of Sycamore Canyon to the U.S. Forest Service, the California Coastal Commission, and the beach’s operator, Parks Management Company – couldn’t agree on the terms.
“Finding a balance between these interests has been like walking between raindrops,” says Butch Kronlund, who heads the Coast Property Owners Association and is involved in efforts to address overtourism concerns in Big Sur.
The plan had been to limit the number of cars at the Pfeiffer Beach Day Use Area to 150 a day and ramp up the shuttle service’s hours of operation compared to last year, in accordance with demand. Parks Management agreed to a decrease in customers as long as it would be allowed to raise its fee from $10 to $20.
But Coastal Commission staff signaled that restricting the number of cars and raising prices would likely run afoul of the state law on public access. Meanwhile, on June 14, the Forest Service rejected Parks Management’s requested fee hike as too high, approving instead a new fee of $12 to account for the concessionaire’s rising costs.