SLO to allow night hiking and biking — starting next winter

Hikers make their way up Cerro San Luis in San Luis Obispo.
Hikers make their way up Cerro San Luis in San Luis Obispo.

Hikers and bikers who have been clamoring for the city of San Luis Obispo to allow nighttime winter trail use have something to look forward to — starting next winter.

On Tuesday, a divided City Council approved a two-year pilot program to offer limited night use of Cerro San Luis peak to begin in November.

Cerro San Luis is also referred to as “San Luis Mountain,” among other colloquial names, and features a large white “M” on its east face overlooking the city.

The peak’s 4.9 miles of city trails will be open for nighttime use until 8:30 p.m. during the next two winters, beginning Nov. 4 to March 10, 2018-19, and then resuming Nov. 3 to March 8, 2019-2020.

Open-space recreation is currently prohibited at night in the city, with use allowed between one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset.

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Two mountain lions captured on Irish Hills Natural Reserve in 2016. The city of San Luis Obispo will be using game cameras to capture the habits of animals during the course of a two-year program allowing expanded hours of use on Cerro San Luis. City of San Luis Obispo

The pilot program, approved on a 3-2 vote, will allow 65 people per day to register for an online permit for nighttime recreation hours. They must present evidence they have the required permit to a patrolling ranger if asked on the trail. The city hasn’t set up the online program yet.

“I think this type of pilot program is really an ideal way for us to allow some nighttime (nature) use, to really engage and embrace the ongoing long-term stewardship,” said Councilman Dan Rivoire.

During the pilot program, San Luis Obispo staff members will carefully monitor the presence of people and animals, using data tracking devices, said Robert Hill, the city’s natural resources manager.

“Our intention is to be very involved out there,” Hill said.

A wide variety of animals inhabit the 118-acre Cerro San Luis natural reserve, including deer, skunks, bobcats, a known mountain lion and a number of birds such as the yellow-rumped warbler and rufous-crowned sparrow.

A timelapse video featuring 152 photos by Cal Poly professor Brian Lawler is part of a new photography project featuring a year in the life of the San Luis Obispo mountain.

The city program will study whether nighttime human presence affects the eating, nesting and habitation conditions of the animals.

The split vote was the result of a council divided by sensitivities to animal life and arguments in favor of hikers and bikers who say work schedules often prevent them from enjoying nature during the winter hours.

“I’d rather not ask the animals to adapt,” said councilwoman Andy Pease, who voted no along with Carlyn Christianson. “We ask a lot of them already. We put a lot of pressures on the edges of our environment.”

Garrett Otto, a San Luis Obispo resident, said in public comment that the pilot will provide a factual basis for a decision moving forward, and argued those recreating at night will be good stewards.

“I think everybody is very concerned with the environment,” Otto said. “Just because of the additional nighttime use doesn’t mean we don’t care about the environment.”