A scenic expansion at Piedras Blancas Light Station

Natural area around the lighthouse now includes habitat like the elephant seal rookery

ktanner@thetribunenews.comJanuary 19, 2014 

The Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area has doubled in size to 476 acres.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The federally designated Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area has more than doubled in size — to 476 acres from 232 — under a partnership agreement between State Parks and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The expanded area now spans more than 7.5 miles, up from about 2 miles, of coastline full of dune fields, riparian wetlands, estuaries and important wildlife habitat, including the much-visited elephant seal rookery.

Legislation initially introduced by Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, in 2004 was approved by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008, designating the 18-acre light station the nation’s third Outstanding Natural Area. Other areas  include lighthouses at Yaquina Head in Oregon and Jupiter Inlet in Florida.

The designation was established to protect unique scenic, scientific, educational, and recreational values, according to BLM.

The areas are part of the Bureau of Land Management’s network of National Conservation Lands, including National Monuments, Wilderness Study Areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The Outstanding Natural Area designation puts the site and its iconic lighthouse on a par with the nation’s other premier areas, including national monuments, parks, wilderness areas and historic trails, former site manager John Bogacki said in 2004.

Land declared an Outstanding Natural Area can be eligible for additional federal grants.

The natural area now stretches south of the light station to just south of Arroyo Laguna (also known as Oak Knoll Creek, it’s a popular spot for windsurfing) and the northern edge of the San Simeon Point parcel owned by Hearst Ranch. On the north, the natural area now reaches to just north of the old Piedras Blancas Motel.

The bulk of the addition, 212 acres, is made up of a narrow ribbon of coastal bluff between Highway 1 and the ocean. But from just north of the lighthouse to the old motel, the natural area also expanded by 32 acres east of the highway.

All of the added property was acquired by State Parks through the Hearst Ranch Conservation Plan of 2005.

The Piedras Blancas lighthouse was completed in 1875. Originally 110 feet tall (with watch and lantern rooms), it is now 74 feet after the top was removed in 1949, soon after a
magnitude-4.8 earthquake damaged the lighthouse. The U.S. Coast Guard turned the light station over to BLM in 2001.

According to Jim Boucher, BLM’s site manager, his agency and its State Parks neighbor share volunteers, personnel, knowledge, equipment and supplies while addressing common issues, including eradication of invasive plants and development of the California Coastal Trail.

A trail in the natural area is in the planning stages, Boucher said. It would offer dramatic views of and access to the coastline, the opportunity to see wildlife and protection for the area’s natural and cultural features.

Working with BLM on light station management are members of the Piedras Blancas Light Station Association. Through the years, volunteers aiding in light station preservation and restoration efforts have included Cal Poly and Cuesta College students, members of the Grizzly Youth Academy, Friends of the Elephant Seal, and various groups and clubs.

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