Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, which has offered hiking trails, hundreds of bird species and stunning views of the bay from Los Osos, has opened eight more acres to the public.
Like the rest of the 32-acre preserve, the eastern addition is open from dawn to dusk — adding a trail, boardwalk and a viewing platform.
“Well, this is an area of land that was, basically, overrun with invasive plants,” Dave Tyra, president of the Morro Coast Audubon Society, said at a grand opening ceremony Sunday. “So, by taking it over, we were able to start removing and bringing native plants back in.”
It took advocates nine years to pull it off.
A family that previously owned the property at Ramona Avenue and 4th Street sold it for $2 million in 2008 to the nonprofit Trust For Public Land. It in turn deeded the land to the Morro Coast Audubon Society under an agreement that the organization would restore and protect the habitat for native wildlife.
It’s now providing public access through a grant received from the Califiornia State Coastal Conservancy.
During biologicial and archeological surveys, the area was found to be home to several culturally sensitive sites as well as the federally endangered Morro Shoulderband Snail. The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County helped the Audubon Society create a plan to mitigate harm to the snail.
The county initially approved the plan in 2011. But while waiting for the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife, which signed off last year, the county imposed additional requirements, including calling for the retention of up to 120 eucalyptus trees that it had originally said could be removed after residents’ complaints.
In addition, the Morro Bay-based citizens group Save the Park had appealed the project to the county Board of Supervisors, arguing that the restoration work would indiscriminately remove undergrowth from the Sweet Springs East portion of the reserve. The board shot down that appeal.
According to the Audubon Society, only a handful of trees or limbs found to be hazardous to the new trail and a bench area have been removed. About two dozen trees were lost in storms last year, the group says.
It’s a place — probably one of few — where someone (who is) in a wheelchair or sight-impaired can actually go out and experience the Morro Bay Estuary and get right up close to it.
Dave Tyra, president of the Morro Coast Audubon Society
The Morro Coast Aubudon Society says the new eastern trail and boardwalk is accessible to those with disabilities, but the trails in the central and western portion of the preserve leading to the eastern trail are not because they were built before ADA requirements and aren’t required to meet the standards.
Jan Surbey, spokeswoman for the Morro Coast Audubon Society, said the organization has neither the funds nor the permits to upgrade the trails and does not currently have plans to do so.
Still, Tyra said Sunday, the increased accessibility is a big improvement: “The trail itself goes out to an overlook which basically exposes an area of mud flats in the estuary for wildlife viewing that wasn’t available before; and it’s also accessible,” he said. “So, it’s a place — probably one of few — where someone (who is) in a wheelchair or sight-impaired can actually go out and experience the Morro Bay Estuary and get right up close to it.”
Though the new trail is now open to the public, restoration efforts continue in the form of removing veldt grass and planting native plants in the coastal dune habitat of the Morro Shoulderband snail.
Sweet Springs work parties maintain the preserve and are usually held the second Saturday of each month.
East Sweet Springs Nature Preserve
The 8-acre eastern addition to the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve in Los Osos officially opened to the public Sunday. Here are some quick facts about the property.
- The property was purchased from a private party in 2008 and deeded to the Morro Coast Audubon Society.
- East Sweet Springs Nature Preserve is open dawn to dusk.
- A trail roughly two-thirds of a mile long round-trip joins a 250-foot long boardwalk, with four informational kiosks along the way and a viewing platform overlooking the bay.
- The new property is Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant.
- Pet, camping, fires, smoking, bicycles, hunting, swimming, boating and firearms are prohibited.
- More information about the preserve and volunteering opportunities, visit morrocoastaudubon.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.