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Groundwork continues on Piedras Blancas cabin and campground project

Courtesy of CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation
A new stretch of the California Coastal Trail is planned from the lighthouse to Arroyo de la Cruz beach.

A proposed new California State Parks cabin and campground project on the Central Coast is in the works. The site is located seven miles north of San Simeon, on an oceanside bluff west of Highway 1. State Parks wants to develop the project to provide more low-cost options for visitors, but the plan isn’t unanimously embraced by locals.

Just north of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse is a shuttered 1950s-era roadside motel. It sits on 25 acres of coastal bluffs, with two beaches and a long stretch of shoreline. A land conservancy group bought the property in 2005 and gave it to State Parks. While the motel remains closed, the rest of the property is open to the public for parking and beach access.

Meanwhile, after three decades of planning, the California Legislature passed a law in 2001 calling for completion of the California Coastal Trail. The trail - the coastal equivalent to the Pacific Crest Trail - will someday stretch 1200 miles from Oregon to Mexico. Today about half of the trail is completed.

State Parks envisions a portion of the coastal trail to traverse its property with the old motel. And it plans to build a variety of accommodations there to host hikers. 

“It is a great opportunity for them to experience beautiful northern San Luis Obispo County, in a multitude of different ways. From bike camping, to campgrounds, to cabins, all the way up to a motel," said State Parks District Superintendent Dan Falat, who serves as the project manager for the Piedras Blancas Cabin and Camping Project.

The project entails renovating the motel, and building 29 campsites and 14 cabins on four of the property’s 25 acres. And a new segment of the California Coastal Trail would snake along the property's bluffs.

This week the public comment period ended for the latest planning phase of the campground project. State Parks staff are now going through, and responding to, the comments they received - about 20. Falat says some people are strongly in favor of the proposal, an equal amount are strongly opposed, and the rest have mixed opinions about the project’s different components.

Skip Moss is a longtime Cambria resident.

“As you are coming south from Big Sur or going north into Big Sur, it’s the first area that is wild. The highway was moved inland because of erosion. It's the last spot in southern Central California that hasn’t been developed. We don’t need to develop every inch," Moss said, adding he and others worry about protecting migrating birds and endangered species, and maintaining the locale’s iconic viewshed.

“I’ve seen other examples up on the coast... when access is increased the areas get trammeled. They get overused. I know that there are other properties State Parks owns in the area if they need to expand the campgrounds that are not within the viewshed, certainly not on the west side of Highway 1," Moss said.

But Falat says it’s important for State Parks to welcome visitors to the natural resources on the coastline, especially so children can grow up with an appreciation for conservation as a result. 

“Part of our mission is recreation and providing high quality opportunities for recreation - and still balancing those natural resources and just the general impact of the area. So it is a constant balance, and right now we are just in the planning effort of that,” Falat said.

State Parks staff said public comments on the project’s initial environmental study will be incorporated and the revised study recirculated. If and when it’s approved, the next step is going through the coastal development permit process.

What’s happening right now, says Falat, is all the preplanning necessary to get to a point where State Parks can start finding the money to pay for the project. So it could be years before the little roadside motel near Piedras Blancas once again welcomes visitors to the Central Coast. 

KCBX's Greta Mart contributed to this story.

Carol started as a newsroom volunteer at KCBX in the summer of 2017, inspired by her daughter's internship with KCBX News. She joined the KCBX staff in January, 2018. Carol started her radio career at Cal Poly’s KCPR, then moved on to become the director of programming and a morning host at KKUS (US98). Her voice was heard on advertisements and on KSBY TV for many years as well.