A project needed to open the Pismo Preserve to the public is in the final stretch, two years after the surprise discovery of a previously unrecorded Northern Chumash cemetery contributed to delays and a significant redesign.
The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County has secured all permits for a new parking lot and other visitor amenities. The conservancy expects building to begin once it has secured the final $3.9 million needed to complete the project, which could be by the end of the summer.
Once open, hikers, bikers, equestrians and Native Americans, who for years were locked out of the sacred land, will have access to the 880-acre preserve near Pismo Beach — including its sweeping coastal views and 11-mile trail system through oak woodlands and rolling grasslands — from sunrise until an hour after sunset, seven days a week.
Construction of a picnic area, restroom facilities, bike racks, improvements to Mattie Road and a paved accessible trail is expected to take about six months to complete once work begins.
The project was delayed two years due to a series of complications, including requirements to enhance pedestrian safety on Mattie Road with a sidewalk and by widening the entrance.
A major redesign of the parking of area also was required after preliminary archaeological work revealed a significant find that gave the project new meaning in 2016: an extensive and previously unrecorded cemetery of the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe.
To protect the cemetery, those involved in the project haven’t released details of what exactly was discovered or where. But The Land Conservancy said a collaborative redesign was undertaken to avoid disturbing the site when the true magnitude of the its significance was revealed. The organization has worked closely with the Northern Chumash Tribe to conserve the cultural heritage site.
“We are proud of how we’re moving forward with this project,” said Kaila Dettman, the conservancy’s executive director. “While we had to revise our plan and it added complexity, I am just inspired that we’ve protected such a sacred and special place.”
Mona Olivas Tucker, chair of yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe of San Luis Obispo County and Region, said that it took some time, but she feels there is a “mutually respectful relationship” with the organization.
“There has been willingness on their part to help us in protection of our culture and cultural landscapes,” Tucker said. “We’ve always known this was an important piece of property. We didn’t know all the details.”
She also spoke of the value of public access.
“We’ve been denied access along with everyone else for decades and decades,” Tucker added, noting that the land was under private ownership. “One of the great things that has come from this is we have access — that’s important to us. I hope visitors will look at this place the way we do with great respect.”
The Land Conservancy purchased the land for $12 million in 2014 with the goal of opening the area to the public and establishing an oak woodland conservation area, which serves as a wildlife corridor. In the last year, the land has been fully open to the public through Discovery Days, which have drawn between 450 and 650 people to the site per day .
The Land Conservancy expects to receive help for the last $3.9 million from state and local agencies, including the city of Pismo Beach, as well as from local businesses and individuals.
“Let’s all work together to honor the land’s history while opening it up for all to enjoy,” Dettman said.