In the coming months, San Luis Obispo rangers plan to install about two dozen trash cans and pet-waste bag dispensers, 15 bike racks, eight benches and more than 30 directional signs throughout the city’s open space properties.
These and numerous other upgrades are part of a comprehensive maintenance plan recently approved by the San Luis Obispo City Council to improve the trails for hikers and mountain bikers and to protect natural resources.
The city’s focus has shifted to maintenance and day-to-day operating needs, rather than acquiring open space properties and building trails — about 52 miles of trails on 15 major properties to date. And trail users should see improvements soon.
“We want to have a visual impact right out of the gate,” Ranger Services Supervisor Doug Carscaden said, “so we’ll be ordering trash cans and Mutt Mitts (a brand name of pet-waste bags) and getting the things on the way that we can get in and on the ground to show an improvement quickly.”
The plan highlights each open space area with notable maintenance projects, such as addressing trail erosion or switchback cutting, as well as locations for signs, gates, informational kiosks, bridges, cattle guards and other upgrades.
For example, parking will be improved at Johnson Ranch Open Space, eight to 10 parking spots will be added to Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve and 15 new trail direction signs will be added to the Irish Hills Natural Reserve.
The City Council named open space a major city goal in the 2015-17 financial plan and budgeted $570,000 over those two fiscal years to fund ongoing maintenance, trailhead enhancement and conservation projects. The council also approved funds to increase its ranger staff, improving the city’s ability to maintain, improve and patrol its approximately 3,700 acres of open space areas.
But some San Luis Obispo residents who had long advocated for more staff to enforce the city’s rules in open space areas — such as prohibitions on night-hiking, overnight camping and off-leash dogs — worried that rangers would be spending more time on maintenance than patrolling the open space areas.
The only thing I’d like to see in the future is a couple more rangers, more boots on the ground. It’s all really important to maintain open space.
Gary Felsman, San Luis Obispo resident
About 30 residents who live near Bishop Peak Natural Reserve, one of the city’s most popular open space areas, sent a letter to the Parks and Recreation Commission in November asking how much time the rangers would spend enforcing the rules to protect open space versus conducting maintenance.
“In other words,” they wrote, “what percentage of total ranger time will be dedicated primarily to the primary purpose of open space ... the protection of natural resources?”
Carscaden, the Ranger Services supervisor, said the rangers wear many hats and can issue citations for violations of the city’s open space regulations while they are working in the open space areas.
“We could be doing maintenance and educating people,” said Carscaden, noting that rangers have issued 65 citations from early October to early December, mostly for off-leash dogs or people who are in the areas after hours. About 20 percent of the citations have been issued in the Bishop Peak area.
“When Ranger Carscaden talks about wearing many hats, I actually see that every week,” said Greg Bettencourt, a member of Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers who works with the rangers regularly. “Ostensibly, we’re out there doing new trail construction or maintenance, but woe to anyone who walks by with their dog off leash.”
Gary Felsman, for whom the Felsman Loop on Bishop Peak is named, said he has seen “nothing but compliance” while working on Islay Hill a few days a week.
“Those who don’t comply, have a dog leash in hand. They know the rules,” Felsman said, adding: “The only thing I’d like to see in the future is a couple more rangers, more boots on the ground. It’s all really important to maintain open space.”