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Heavy use at Bishop Peak leads to new fines, new solutions

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On July 7, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted 4-0 in favor of an updated management plan for the Bishop Peak Natural Reserve. John Ashbaugh abstained. The new plan addresses several issues at the open space area, including trash and dog poop, bootleg trails, sensitive habitat protection and restoration, neighborhood impacts, and night hiking. 

The City Council adopted a $489 fine for people caught night hiking or walking their dogs off-leash. Along with the new fines, council members approved three new ranger positions to monitor all the city’s open space areas. 

Bishop Peak is one of the most heavily used open spaces in the city, with up to 400 visitors on weekdays, and 1,000 visitors on weekends, according to staff reports. In total, the 350-acre site receives more than 150,000 visitors per year, and there are two to three emergency calls to the space each month. At the July 7 meeting, Natural Resources Manager Bob Hill said the sheer number of visitors causes many of the problems. At the meeting Hill showed a picture of one trailhead with a pile of trash, bagged dog poop, and broken glass. 

“We have seen that the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ philosophy isn’t working with the level of use here,” he said. 

The city will begin offering trash services at the trailheads, but other problems were harder to resolve.

Neighbors cited traffic and noise as major impacts, as well as night hiking. There are two official trailheads, on Patricia Drive and on Highland Drive; neither one has off-street parking, so visitors typically park in the surrounding neighborhoods. Staff suggested installing more bike racks as a way to decrease car traffic in the neighborhood, while Mayor Jan Marx suggested encouraging Cal Poly students to hike elsewhere in the city. According to a city staff report, night hiking can disturb nocturnal wildlife, as well as neighbors who have to deal with the traffic. All city open spaces are closed one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. Hill said that it takes about 45 minutes to hike down from the peak, so sunset watchers should still have time to take in the view. The $489 fine is consistent with most citations in city open space, according to Hill. 

The trailhead at Foothill Boulevard, though popular, is not sanctioned by the city, and it traverses private property, raising concerns about safety and trespassing. There are also issues with erosion at the site. 

Staff suggested a long-term access agreement with the property owner as well as an official parking lot on Foothill Boulevard. The issue wasn’t settled at the July 7 meeting, but Hill said he was hopeful an agreement could be made with the owner in the next few years. 

Emergency access was another issue that remained unresolved. The city had an agreement with a different property owner to use a private access point at Brittany Court, but with the increased volume of emergency calls, the property owner ceased allowing access. The city pondered several options, but didn’t commit to one at the meeting. 

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