When fans of Piedras Blancas Light Station gather at 6 p.m. Friday, June 5, at Cambria’s Veterans Memorial Building, they’ll not only be celebrating the beautifully scenic National Outstanding Natural Area itself and the 15th anniversary of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Conservation Lands, they’ll be welcoming a new Piedras leader, Ryan Cooper.
The public is invited to attend the open house at 1000 Main St.
Rep. Lois Capps and Jim Kenna, BLM state director, have been invited to attend. Capps would receive a presentation in recognition of her longstanding support of the light station and Carrizo Plain National Monument.
After the meeting, attendees can opt to board buses that will take them to the light station to watch the sunset.
National Conservation Lands
The National Conservation Lands system, which BLM launched 15 years ago, covers properties “with something unique about them that needs to be preserved,” Cooper said Tuesday, June 2.
Two years later, the U.S. Coast Guard handed over ownership of the Piedras Blancas Light Station to BLM, ending more than 130 years of the Guard’s management of the lighthouse and the land around it.
Cooper said that the Conservation Lands system includes 872 federally recognized areas in the West, and about 30 million acres that range from wilderness areas and historic trails to wild rivers … and the Piedras natural area.
The circa 1875 Piedras lighthouse stands on a rugged, windswept promontory overlooking the Pacific, 6 miles north of Hearst Castle alongside Highway 1.
The lighthouse was a crucial aid to navigation, and its beam of light still guides mariners along a coastal area that’s dangerously dotted with large guano-coated rocks, small islets and pinnacles.
The Piedras tower also attracts visitors seeking a glimpse into the history of shipping, mariners and the area, and offers spectacular views of the sea, the Santa Lucia range and all sorts of wildlife, marine and terrestrial.
Tours of the light station are given regularly, and occasional special events also are offered.
A dedicated cadre of award-winning volunteer docents and enthusiasts help BLM with the tours, light station maintenance and other tasks.
The following day, a guided tour of the former Piedras Blancas Light Station Principal Keeper’s Cottage is being offered by the Piedras Blancas Light Station Association. The recently renovated cottage was built in 1905 and moved to Cambria in 1960. The tour will feature guides and enactors in period attire,
offering a peek into what lighthouse life was like in the early 20th century. For reservations, call 927-3719 and leave a message.
New park manager
The new park manager succeeds the late Jim Boucher, who died Nov. 5.
Cooper has been at the light station since Nov. 30, but BLM selected him for his permanent post on May 22.
In an email interview, he wrote that previous managers Boucher and John Bogacki “have done a great job of fulfilling” three main goals BLM has for the Piedras station: Restoring the station, providing public access and permitting site-specific research.
Now, Cooper said he hopes to take all that to the next level. He wants to remove some 1960s-era duplexes and replace them with replicas of Victorian-era residences that were on the light station for decades, improve and expand public visitation, continue adapting to different research technologies and “put the top back on the lighthouse.”
Historical studies have determined that an earthquake damaged the tower, in part because of the height of the lighthouse and the weight of the lantern room. In 1949, the U.S. Coast Guard removed the First Order Fresnel lens and the lantern room. That lens is on display in a specially constructed glass exhibit room adjacent to Cambria’s Veterans Memorial Building.
Cooper was an outdoor recreation planner at Carrizo Plain National Monument from 2007 to 2015. For two years prior to that, he worked as a research assistant at the UC Cooperative Extension.
He also taught high school agriculture classes in San Benito and Argonaut schools.
Cooper has lived in San Luis Obispo County for most of his life, graduating from Atascadero High School in 1994. He holds a bachelor of science degree and teaching credential from UC Davis.
Cooper has been married to Debbie Cooper, his high school sweetheart, for nearly 19 years. They have three children: Creston, 16; Evy, 14; and Westley, 12.