More paths for Reservoir Canyon planned

Katie Glines, left, Grace Babcock and Millie hike a trail in the Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve.
Katie Glines, left, Grace Babcock and Millie hike a trail in the Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A popular San Luis Obispo open space area will get two new hiking trails and other amenities under a new conservation plan.

On Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved a conservation plan for the nearly 800-acre Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve immediately east of the city.

The conservation plan for the Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve will guide management of the popular open space area for the next seven years. It outlines a series of improvements the city has planned to make the area more user friendly, said Robert Hill, the city‘s natural resources manager.

“The area needs some good, old-fashioned pride of ownership,” he said. “Some trails are eroding and the whole trail system needs better signs.”

The area is best known for its steep hiking trails and panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas from atop the treeless, serpentine ridge east of Johnson Avenue. It is accessed by trailheads at the end of Lizzie Street through Bowden Ranch near San Luis Obispo High School and at the end of Reservoir Canyon Road off Highway 101 northeast of the city.

The plan calls for the creation of what recreation planners refer to as a stacked loop trail system. Such a system contains several interconnected loop trails within a hiking area.

Users will be able to hike as many of the loops as they want, depending on how far they want to go, Hill said. The trails within the Reservoir Canyon reserve are not loops, so hikers must either do out-and-back hikes or shuttle between trailheads.

Two new trails are planned within five years. One would connect the northern end of the ridge-top trail with the Reservoir Canyon trailhead while the other would be a connector trail along the west side of the ridge between Lizzie and Sydney streets.

Construction of these trails is planned for 2015 through 2017, Hill said. It  would be supervised by the city’s park rangers and would likely use labor provided by the California Conservation Corps and various volunteer groups.

“We’ve had outstanding volunteer partnerships,” Hill said.

The plan also calls for improvements to the Reservoir Canyon trail which extends about a mile up the canyon before starting a steep ascent to the ridge top.

The canyon was the city’s first municipal water source in the early 1900s and features a meandering creek that can pose challenges to hikers.

Plans call for the installation of raised boardwalks and foot bridges to get hikers through marshy areas and over creek crossings, Hill said.

Finally, the plan outlines the opportunity to integrate the historic La Loma Adobe on Lizzie Street into management of the natural reserve. Additional parking could be installed near the adobe and the structure itself could be developed into an interpretive center.

Now that the conservation plan for Reservoir Canyon is complete, Hill will turn his attention to preparing a similar plan for three other components of the city’s open space inventory — Islay, Righetti and Terrace hills. All three are volcanic peaks located in the southeastern part of the city.

Islay and Terrace hills are open to the public, but Righetti Hill, also known as Mine Hill, is not. Righetti Hill will be opened when its conservation plan is complete and development begins in the city’s newly acquired Orcutt Annexation, Hill said.

The conservation plan for the three peaks is expected to be complete in June. San Luis Obispo maintains an inventory of more than 6,500 acres of open space with some

40 miles of trails.