Public tours and work to restore and protect the Piedras Blancas Light Station and Outstanding Natural Area are to continue as they have been despite the sudden death of the man in charge, according to representatives of the Bureau of Land Management, which controls and manages the circa 1875 lighthouse and surrounding area.
Because of the death in Sacramento on Nov. 5 of Park Manager Jim Boucher of Cambria, emotions at the scenic site will be far from normal, however, according to Gabe Garcia and John Skibinski, respectively field office manager and associate field manager of BLM’s Bakersfield office, which oversees the light station.
They said Monday, Nov. 10, that their entire office is reeling from the loss. And they’re not alone.
“Our hearts are broken,” David Cooper, president of the Piedras Blancas Light Station Association, and Donovan Marley of the Friends of the Elephant Seal nonprofit said in separate phone interviews.
“He was a very, very special person,” Marley said.
“We’ve notched up our activities lately, with a lot of energy and projects,” Cooper said, and despite their pain, “we need to keep those sustained. The emotion issue is: How do we keep our hearts straight? We love the place. Jim loved it, too. We have to continue his vision of leadership.”
Until another park manager can be hired, Garcia said, former Piedras manager John Bogacki, retired from BLM, will return as a volunteer a couple days a week to oversee operational activities, and Ryan Cooper, a recreational planner from Carrizo Plain, another BLM unit, will be at the light station to help with the public tours Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Bogacki wrote the management plan for the light station; Boucher wrote the plan for the Natural Outstanding Area, which now encompasses 444 acres of BLM and State Park land from slightly north of the old Piedras Blancas Motel to Tortuga Creek, spanning more than seven miles of coastline.
The natural area also will include 32 acres that are currently east of the highway but will be west of the road when it’s realigned eastward, farther from the ever-eroding shore.
Boucher, 60, had been at the light station for about eight years, and had achieved much in the way of restoration and resource protection during his time there, Skibinski said. Before joining BLM for the Piedras assignment, Boucher had spent many years with the National Park Service at such sites as Yosemite and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Garcia said Boucher had gone to Sacramento a week before his death to be with his father, retired state engineer Fred Boucher, 83.
Cooper and Marley had worked closely with Boucher on a variety of issues. While the two men also are leading a grass-roots campaign to have the light station declared a national monument, Boucher did not and could not participate in that effort, they said, because he would have been on the team to decide whether the designation could happen.
The designation could be considered part of Boucher’s Piedras legacy, another means of protecting and honoring the special area he loved so much.
Garcia said he anticipates that there will be a ceremony honoring all of Boucher’s work there, but neither a date nor plans have been set yet.
The effort toward achieving monument status will continue, Cooper and Marley said. It would take legislative and presidential approval for it to happen, and getting to that point will take a lot of public participation, Marley said. “We’re hoping a majority of people in San Luis Obispo County will say they want this to happen” via cards and letters to decision makers, he said.