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San Luis Obispo considers limited night hiking on city trails

The South Hills Open Space in San Luis Obispo is an easy hike that offers fantastic views of the city.
The South Hills Open Space in San Luis Obispo is an easy hike that offers fantastic views of the city. smiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

In response to requests from the public to keep city trails open after dark so residents can hike after work on winter evenings, the San Luis Obispo City Council has decided to vet the idea of expanding open space recreation hours until 9 p.m. year-round, except at Bishop Peak.

The council approved a plan Tuesday to evaluate the potential policy change, taking into consideration how neighbors, wildlife and emergency response teams might be affected by limited night hiking. No timeline was set for concluding the evaluation, city officials said.

I am very interested, as you know, in some ability to hike after work all year round.

Sara von Schwind, San Luis Obispo resident

The council was responding to testimony from the public in August seeking a revision of the current policy that limits public access to the city’s 3,700 acres of open space to one hour before sunrise through one hour after sunset. Twelve major lands are open for passive recreation, and a trail network covers more than 50 miles.

“I am very interested, as you know, in some ability to hike after work all year round,” San Luis Obispo resident Sara von Schwind wrote in a letter to the city in advance of Tuesday’s meeting.

Most wildlife is most active after sunset, and will be severely impacted by an influx of humans bearing flashlights and headlamps.

Andrew Christie, Sierra Club director

Some letter writers opposed expanded hours.

“We practice and promote the responsible use of ecosystems,” wrote Andrew Christie, director of the local Sierra Club chapter. “Most wildlife is most active after sunset, and will be severely impacted by an influx of humans bearing flashlights and headlamps.”

Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson was the sole dissenting voice in the 4-1 vote in favor of re-evaluation.

“This is something the city already has discussed and thoroughly considered,” Christianson said. “We don’t need to waste any more time on it.”

Councilwoman Andy Pease said most people end work about 5 p.m. and that residents would like outdoor options for exercise and recreation.

Councilman Dan Rivoire said it makes sense “to explore a limited scope of use until 9 p.m., which would be consistent with summertime use hours.”

“I think this could fit very well with the city’s marketing to try to encourage people to use trails other than Bishop Peak,” Councilman Aaron Gomez said.

The council clarified that it won’t consider Bishop Peak for potential night hiking because of the accidents and rescues that have taken place on the popular hiking trail. The city also is trying to encourage a more balanced use of local natural attractions.

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