The Salinas River corridor: Paso Robles to explore new uses for 154-acre parcel

Paso Robles leaders are gearing up to show the public how it can use the city’s newly acquired Salinas River land on the southeast side of town.

The new land management plan — adopted this month by the City Council and required by the state — lays out suggestions for the 154 acres of river corridor the city bought in May. It was purchased for $1.5 million from the John Will family with a state grant intended to protect water quality.

The river and its network of streams have been designated by the state as one of the most critical watersheds in California. Paso Robles is trying to protect river plots within the city limits that it can buy from private owners.

Over time, the city hopes to restore the river’s designated natural areas and prevent public uses that are harmful to habitat and water quality, officials said.

“We expect people to respect the resource and not be trampling in it, trashing it or camping in it,” Assistant City Manager Meg Williamson said.

The plan also calls for new public trails and for the city to identify sensitive species, degraded areas and issues that affect water quality, with ways to fix them.

And it calls for patrols to monitor the land on horseback to help prevent illegal uses. That could take place within the next three years if the city finds funding for it, according to the management plan. Volunteers might also be sought.

Protecting the land

The roughly $5,500 document — prepared by The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County as the consultant — suggests ways to control and improve public access to the river. The city paid the conservancy with grant money and city park development funds.

Studies cited in the plan found that natural habitats have been affected by loss of vegetation, reduced stream flow and degraded water quality and that agriculture, development and illegal public uses have impacted wildlife areas as the community grew.

Homeless encampments, trash dumping and off-road-vehicle riding by the public have contributed to the degraded water quality, the report says.

The city won’t allow those uses for the land, Williamson said, noting that they were also illegal when the land was privately owned.

Ways to monitor the land are still being worked out, she said. The city will have to pursue grants to pay for most of the recommendations.

The four-mile stretch of land that runs through the city has historically been a mixture of city and private ownership, according to Paso Robles officials, but now taxpayers own about two-thirds of it.

The city continues to look for ways to buy additional plots.

The effort also aligns with a city visionary project titled “Follow the River. Follow the Dream,” which is intended to preserve the river habitat and key vistas, enhance recreational trails, improve educational opportunities about river habitat and history, redevelop Paso Robles Street for lakefront activities and provide new connections to downtown. That project’s timeline is not yet set.