Controversial stretch of Ontario Ridge trail could soon be relocated

The fate of the popular Ontario Ridge trail near Avila Beach will return to the spotlight this week, as a request to move the trail is expected to return to San Luis Obispo County on Thursday for approval.

The plan would relocate the trail, which connects Ontario Ridge to Pirate’s Cove, to a less steep portion of the property owned by Rob McCarthy — something several hikers who frequent the area vehemently oppose.

The plan is the latest in a series of controversial plans and proposals for the land.

In 2013, the Coastal Commission denied McCarthy’s application to build a home on the parcel. He then erected fences and signs on the property, blocking hiking trails that had been used by the public since the 1960s. He eventually removed the fences after being told to do so by the California Coastal Commission.

The network of trails on Ontario Ridge offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and a path to Pirate’s Cove; hikers access the network via a steep trail on McCarthy’s property.

McCarthy has said he worries the trail opens him up to a liability claim if a hiker falls and is injured. He wants to build the new trail on an adjacent parcel to the west and fence off the steep trail. He has also raised concerns of trail widening over the years, as more hikers use the path.

McCarthy requested the permit for his latest plan from the county two years ago, but was delayed because county planning staffers said they needed more information. The county Board of Supervisors eventually approved a request to go through the county permitting process.

Now the item is returning to the Planning Commission on Thursday, where staff are recommending approval of the permits.

The relocated trail is proposed as a 5-foot-wide pedestrian trail with signage, access features, and private property line fencing and signage, according to a staff report. It would not be owned or maintained by the county.

Rather than cutting straight up the property, the trail would wrap around the hillside before meeting up with existing trail on the ridge. The access point for Pirate’s Cove would be farther north on Cave Landing Road.

Tarren Collins, a longtime advocate for keeping the trail open, said she is against moving the trail because it would remove access that the public has had for more than 60 years.

“This is where the public chose to hike,” she said. “That’s why there is a trail here, not on the side of the hill. If that was the better place, that’s where we would have made the trail.”

Collins noted that she has been hiking it for years and enjoys the views and unique workout the steep hillside affords.

“The challenge is exhilarating,” she said. “It’s a trail like no other in the county.”

Collins’ Facebook group, “Save Ontario Ridge Trail,” had 1,738 likes as of Tuesday afternoon.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission is scheduled to debate the issue when it meets in the County Government Center Board Chambers at 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. Public hearings begin at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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