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Winter night hiking could be here to stay at Cerro San Luis Natural Reserve

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Rachel Showalter
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Lights from the holiday tree illuminate the top of Cerro San Luis in December

The San Luis Obispo City Council held a public hearing to consider permanently extending public use hours of Cerro San Luis Natural Reserve into the evening hours during the winter months.

A decision was postponed to a later date.

Public use of open space lands in San Luis Obispo is currently restricted to daylight hours. But an extension could allow night hiking on Cerro San Luis Natural Reserve trails until 8:30 p.m. during winter months when daylight savings time is not in effect.

If evening public use is approved, community members can expect to use the open space at night each year between early November and mid March.

Night use has been allowed in the past with permits. City staff said this program would still require permits for December, because the open space sees the most traffic during that month. Permits would not be required for use during the rest of the winter months.

cerro san luis.jpg
Rachel Showalter
View of San Luis Obispo from a Cerro San Luis hiking trail

Although, for the sake of efficiency in transition, city staff recommended permits be required for this first season of program adoption.

The council members that support the program said it would allow for extra recreational opportunities during the winter months.

But Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson and council member Jan Marx oppose the program. Marx said she is concerned it would break a promise made by the council to protect open space. She also said she is worried about the impact it could have on the wildlife in the area.

“I’m hoping that tonight the council will have the courage to stand up, do the right thing and stand by the General Plan, the Open Space and Conservation element, protect the environment and allow nature on Cerro San Luis to be restored and heal from this human intrusion that’s gone on for three years during after dark,” Marx said.

Community members raised concerns regarding off-site impacts to surrounding private lands, overuse by the public and observations of a decreased abundance of wildlife since allowing the permits for night use over the last three years.

City staff said an environmental review concluded that night use would have no significant effect on the environment.

New council member Michelle Shoresman said she is generally supportive of the program but wants more information before making a decision.

“There are animals out there, there’s no question about that. Not really knowing how many there are three years after the program’s been instituted, compared to what was there before, is a little bit difficult for me,” Shoresman said. “I wish we had more data and I would support getting more data.”

The city council opted to further the discussion at an upcoming special meeting currently scheduled for November 9, 2021.

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