Regulars at Pirates Cove could conceivably face a larger problem than strolling packs of tactless gawkers if a proposed land buyout goes through.
The Trust for Public Lands in conjunction with a land conservancy group and San Luis Obispo County announced this week plans to purchase the clothing-optional beach as part of a 121-acre parcel reportedly for sale by the San Miguelito Partners. County officials expressed a motivation to protect the precious coastal land from future developments and preserve the area's unique ecosystem.
According to County Parks Director Pete Jenny, this recent development came on the fly.
"We got the call two weeks ago," Jenny said. "I'm still in a position of playing a little catch-up with TPL. Even if we didn't have all of the facts together, this was an opportunity we couldn't afford to pass up."
Shielded to the north by a sharp outcropping known as Mallagh Landing and to the south by steep cliffs rejoining the sea, Pirates Cove has been adopted by nude sunbathers for its privacy. Largely inaccessible to sea traffic or dangerous swells, the tranquil cove provides respite for many species during low tide, seals often catch rays on the protruding rocks.
The owners have traditionally permitted responsible public use of the beach. Sunbathers often volunteer their time picking up litter and maintaining the trails.
Naturally, concerns arose alongside the sales talks that the county would make the clothing-optional public resource clothing-mandatory. Jenny deflected claims of an underlying puritanical intent.
"State law does not prohibit nudity on a public beach," Jenny said. "San Luis Obispo County is a fairly conservative institution and the board could adopt an ordinance, but that's above my discretion as a mid-level bureaucrat."
If it can acquire the land, which is expected to cost at least $4 million, the county plans to upgrade the access paths to the beach, as well as the parking lot at the terminus of Cave Landing Road. Hiking trails could also be added to complete paths along the ridge.
However, sunbathers argued, even if County Parks decides to keep the beach natural, the transition to a county park bodes poorly for the unique coastal getaway.
"There are plenty of places in this county to hike," said Pirates Cove regular Joyce, an area real estate professional who opted to withhold her last name. "There's no other place like this."
"The most important thing is protecting the land," Jenny responded. "What we do afterward is far less important."