Environment

Fate of popular ocean-view trail likely headed to Coastal Commission

Hikers enjoying the Ontario Ridge Trail in April.
Hikers enjoying the Ontario Ridge Trail in April. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Changes to a popular South County hiking trail will likely be appealed again after a vote by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ended in a stalemate.

The fate of the Ontario Ridge Trail — which runs from Shell Beach to Avila Beach — came before supervisors after hikers appealed a Planning Commission decision that would have moved the trail around the ridge, lengthening the path but cutting off ocean views and eliminating its uniquely steep surface.

The trail includes a path to Pirate’s Cove and stretches across property belonging to Rob McCarthy, who’s been fighting the California Coastal Commission over his plans to build a house for more than seven years.

In 2013, McCarthy attempted to fence off and close the trail, but the Coastal Commission ordered him to remove the barriers. He says the trail — which has been in use for decades — presents a liability, as hikers could fall and injure themselves.

But fans of the trail say that’s not an issue, and the new path would deprive them of a beloved exercise experience.

The Planning Commission voted 4-0 in April to allow the trail modification, prompting the Tuesday appeal.

Tarren Collins, of Save Ontario Ridge Trail, explains why she opposes moving the Ontario Ridge Trail in Avila Beach. The plan would move the trail, which connects Ontario Ridge to Pirate's Cove, to a less steep area.

Supervisor Lynn Compton recused herself when the item was presented, saying she’s familiar with the McCarthys and accepted a campaign donation from the family.

“In the political climate we’re in, I want no impropriety,” she said.

Compton’s absence caused a split vote, with supervisors Adam Hill and Bruce Gibson voting against the trail modification and Debbie Arnold and John Peschong voting in favor of it.

When supervisors wouldn’t take up Gibson’s proposal to continue the appeal, the stalemate stood. With no vote either way, the Planning Commission’s decision remains final.

Now that residents have exhausted their county-level appeals, they have 10 days to appeal the trail modification to the Coastal Commission.

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Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

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