The community has spoken, and State Parks has listened: Starting as early as next summer, visiting Point Lobos State Natural Reserve will require a reservation, aimed to prevent the park from being loved to death, and to curb the sometimes chaotic parking on the side of Highway 1.
“I’ve heard from docents who used to help visitors see whales, and now they’re picking up diapers,” says Kate Daniels, chief of staff for County Supervisor Mary Adams, whose district includes the Carmel and Big Sur coast.
State Parks has heard similar complaints over the past few years, and is proposing to cap the reservations at 2,700 visitors per day (though that number may change a bit).
“Even walk-ins will be counted in this new system,” says Brent Marshall, parks superintendent of the Monterey District, “so you’re not in a conveyor belt of hikers.”
Marshall says the hope is to have the system in place by next summer, though there are logistics to work out before then.
One is parking: State Parks owns a vacant lot known as “Marathon Flats,” adjacent to Highway 1 south of Rio Road, that is envisioned to become a parking lot for about 99 vehicles; a shuttle would then carry passengers to Pt. Lobos with the hope of reducing cars parked along Highway 1.
Concurrently, the county is working on an ordinance that would ban parking on the east side of Highway 1 by Point Lobos. Neville Pereira, the county’s acting chief director of public works, estimates that will take three to six months as the county coordinates with other agencies.
Daniels says she has discussed the proposed parking ban with the California Coastal Commission and though the agency generally favors increased public access to the coast, parking also presents issues of protecting public safety and natural resources, which is required by the Coastal Act.
Parking on the east side of the highway was temporarily closed this summer during construction of a new Highway 1 climbing lane, and Daniels says that, among other things, the ban enabled a fire engine to access a smoldering utility pole east of the highway. And then there are the pedestrians scrambling across the road.
“Visitors don’t get that this is a highway,” Daniels says. “It looks to a lot of people like a country road.”
Another project in the offing is the opening of San Jose Creek trail – located at Point Lobos Ranch on the east side of the highway – which State Parks is currently working to open to the public next year for the first time ever.
Marshall says that visiting the trail, which will connect to Palo Corona Regional Park, will also require reservations and be included in the 2,700-visitor cap, with the idea being to disperse people throughout the area, and at different times.
“Once we sell out the peak time middle of day, we’ll move people to the shoulders,” Marshall says.