Go-karts, mini golf and more coming to El Chorro park as part of major makeover

Miniature golf, go-karts and more are coming to El Chorro Regional Park this summer.

“It’s like a family fun center where people can come and have a great time,” Nick Franco, San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation director, said in a phone interview Friday. “We don’t have anything like that (now).”

County officials are in the process of revamping the 720-acre park, located across Highway 1 from Cuesta College.

Situated between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, El Chorro Regional Park already offers a host of attractions — including ball fields, a campground, a climbing rock, hiking trails, picnic areas, a playground and a volleyball court. The area is also home to the Dairy Creek Golf Course, El Chorro Dog Park and the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.

Upgrading the park

The park has faced challenges in recent years, and a water shortage forced the county to close nine out of the golf course’s 18 holes in May 2018.

That left the county scrambling to close a $460,000 revenue gap, Franco said.

Aided by ideas from 14 public workshops, county parks officials started looking at possible new revenue streams — and came up with a plan that included reconfiguring about half of the 89-acre Dairy Creek course, one of three county-owned golf courses. (The others are Morro Bay Golf Course and Chalk Mountain Golf Course in Atascadero.)

The first step involved developing a golf practice facility at Dairy Creek in partnership with Cal Poly.

Putting greens and chipping areas replaced two of the closed holes, Franco said, while a short-game practice area was installed in place of a third hole.

Two of the remaining closed holes are being converted into a Toptracer range, a driving range featuring ball-tracking technology that offers an “interactive, fun experience,” Franco said. The Toptracer range, located west of the Dairy Creek clubhouse, will include a small building with food and beverage service, he added.

On the east side of the clubhouse will be a 18-hole miniature golf course with an agricultural theme.

“There will be dairy cows, because, Dairy Creek,” Franco said, as well as windmills and water tanks.

A dry creek bed running through the course will double as stormwater management, he said.

Also in store is an 800-foot go-kart race track featuring electric vehicles.

“They’re not going to be the loud, noisy go-karts that you’re used to, but they’re going to be plenty of fun,” Franco said.

County parks officials plan to install solar carports at the existing Dairy Creek parking lot to provide power for the go-karts, clubhouse and Toptracer range.

“We’re going to have enough energy production to offset our entire electrical use in that area,” Franco said.

“Our idea is to have all of it open at the same time,” Franco said, although he isn’t sure exactly when in the summer that will be. “We want to get our permits in hand and our contractor under contract before we set a firm date.”

The county plans to hire additional seasonal employees to staff those new attractions. (Franco isn’t sure at this point how many jobs that will create.)

Cost of the improvements

Although it’s unclear how much it will cost to install the new features, Franco estimated the miniature golf course and go-karts could carry a price tag of $600,000 to $900,000.

Cal Poly is investing $200,000 in the Toptracer range and other golf course additions, he said, while the county will chip in another $100,000 or so.

“We have funding to do the stuff we want this summer. We don’t have funding for additional stuff” right now, Franco said.

According to Franco, future phases of the project will bring more fun to other parts of El Chorro Regional Park, including batting cages, a zipline, a Frisbee golf course, a BMX track and a mountain biking course.

Park officials also plan to expand the 61-site El Chorro Regional Park Campground by building camping cabins and adding more recreational vehicle hookups and tent camping, Franco said.

“This is the biggest project in that park since the golf course opened” in the 1990s, Franco said.

According to Franco, the ultimate goal is to create a destination for everyone from local families to tourists to college students.

“We think it will be a really good draw,” he said.

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Entertainment editor Sarah Linn writes about all things fun, including movies, television, the performing arts, the visual arts and the best places to eat and drink in San Luis Obispo County. A graduate of Oregon State University, she has worked for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo for more than a decade and has earned multiple California journalism awards.