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Pismo Preserve sees unanticipated visitor traffic; maintenance adjusted for impact

Kaila Dettman, The Land Conservancy

More than 142,000 people have visited the Pismo Preserve in 2021, and that number is expected to surpass 200,000 by the end of the year.

The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County is the nonprofit that owns and operates the Pismo Preserve, an 880-acre open space in the hills above Pismo Beach.

The Conservancy’s executive director Kaila Dettman said when the preserve opened in January of 2020 they estimated just 100,000 visitors per year — in line with some of the other popular open spaces in the county.

She said seeing this many people using the land is amazing.

“We always knew it would be popular and that people would love it because it’s such a beautiful place," Dettman said. "But it was pretty phenomenal to get those visitor counts back and realize that we had had 142,000 visitors in nine months.”

Although it’s exciting, Dettman said the number of visitors certainly has impacts on the Preserve’s facilities. She said they’ve had to increase maintenance and staffing to accommodate.

“Those who have tried to go on a busy weekend know that that parking lot fills up," Dettman said. "With COVID in particular, it’s cleaning the restrooms way more often than we would have expected. That’s additional wear and tear on the facilities and trails themselves.”

She said The Land Conservancy originally planned for two parking lots, but had to adjust because of cultural resources on the site.

She said they encourage alternative methods of transportation and an Avila-Pismo Beach Trolley stop will be added at the Preserve next summer.

Dettman said the heavier usage also puts more stress on the natural habitat and requires additional conservation efforts and trail maintenance.

She said there is room to add things like benches or more picnic tables along the trails if necessary, but the Preserve is holding up well structurally.

“We set it up to be sustainable and easy to manage even though it was a very complex project. It’s pretty turnkey after the fact,” Dettman said.

The Pismo Preserve is open every day from dawn until dusk.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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