The spectacular and undeveloped Hearst Ranch is the largest piece of privately held coastal real estate in California. This almost entirely undeveloped land has been in the news for years as the question, how much development can be allowed on the parcel and how much should be protected, has created intense controversy. Recently, the Hearst Corporation offered a broad five-point conservation framework that includes very limited development and the promise of public access via the Coastal Trail west of Highway 1. The cost of this easement is under negotiation with state representatives.
However good the framework sounds, many questions remain. Many environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, Friends of the Ranch (East-West Ranch that is), Coastwalk and other members of the SLO Coast Alliance, are optimistic about the framework, but have not endorsed it because of a lack of details. Friends of the Ranch wrote a 72 page ?blueprint? for conservation, based on the framework, which has been widely praised as a visionary view of the future for the ranch.
The Hearst Corporation generously invited The Coastal Trail Expedition to walk the shoreline and to look at where we think the trail should go. The group discovered wonderful opportunities for a coastal trail along the shoreline's low marine terrace, overlooking an abundance of rocky points and sandy coves. We saw an abundance of pelicans, seagulls, cormorants, otter, and harbor and elephant seals.
Coastwalk supports public ownership of the west side of Highway 1, a simple environmentally sensitive foot trail running the length of the ranch, carefully selected trailheads with small parking areas, and modest restrooms. The trail would emphasize habitat-restoration efforts, and observation of flora and fauna. At appropriate locations, full access trails could be developed to important locations, such as the elephant-seal overlooks.
Finally, thanks to the Hearst Corporation for working towards conservation and for offering a guided tour. Also, thanks to the people of San Luis Obispo for fiercely protecting their precious coastline. (Richard Nichols; photos, Richard Nichols and Linda Hanes)
Left: Male elephant seals bask in the sun. Right: Marching off the miles (on Aug. 4).
Above: Arch Rock at Pt Reyes