Kaila Dettman sat on a gnarled old oak branch perched on a mountaintop above Pismo Beach with the vast blue Pacific Ocean stretched before her. As a humpback whale leaped from the water, a red tail hawk landed beside her.
That spot among the centuries-old coast live oaks is one of Dettman’s favorites at the Pismo Preserve. And it will soon be open to the public — along with 11 miles of trails and ranch roads that weave through rolling grasslands and oak savanna — if the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County is able to raise $2.3 million in the next few months.
“It’s just beautiful. It’s like the whole of San Luis Obispo County, everything that it means to live here is just right there in front of me when I’m sitting there,” Dettman, executive director of The Land Conservancy, told The Tribune on a recent tour of the 900-acre preserve.
Anyone who’s driven on Highway 101 through Pismo Beach lately has likely noticed construction at the base of the hills.
After years of work fundraising, procuring grants, purchasing the land, working with experts to build multi-use trails, designing and paying for road modifications for public safety, the Land Conservancy is in the homestretch toward opening day.
Once open to the public, it will be available for biking, dog-walking, horseback riding, picnicking, running and exploring.
If the conservancy had the money today, the preserve would be open in six to eight months, Dettman said.
If the organization is unable to raise the funds to pay the contractor for the last phase of construction, it will likely miss the rest of this construction season. Costs will rise, and opening to the public will be postponed.
“Now’s the time,” Dettman said. “We need people to join us now in reaching the conclusion of this. I hope there is enough additional help from the public.”
Bike, dog and horse-friendly trails
The Central Coast is wealthy with public lands. Yet, the Five Cities area, so far, has had limited access to upland trails that the preserve will provide.
The Pismo Preserve is unique in many ways. Vista points provide coastal views not seen anywhere else — offering a perspective of the coastline from Port San Luis all the way past the Oceano Dunes to Point Sal on a clear day.
Turning inland, hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders can move across the grass-covered terrain on gently graded trails that carve across the face of the hills with views of Vamonos Canyon, lined with thick brush, shrubs and oaks that march up the mountainside.
Each of the trails are named for special traits.
Discovery, a 5.2 mile trail, traverses the diverse landscape and leads to Lover’s Point with an elevation of 780 feet. There’s also the 3.4-mile Spring to Spring Trail, the 2.2-mile Lone Oak Trail and the Panhandle Trail at 1.1 miles. All together, a hiker will be able to design a 14-mile day hike when the preserve is open.
Public access ends many acres from the preserve’s back boundary. Still, inland views include sweeping landscape perspectives of Edna Valley and Thousand Hills Ranch, as well as the Arroyo Grande Oil Field.
“It’s a great vantage point. You can’t get this view anywhere else,” Dettman said.
Wildlife habitat on the Central Coast
All paths at the Pismo Preserve lead to wildlife. Activity spotted at the preserve includes a pair of quail running across a dirt road with a line of babies trailing behind, and a juvenile golden eagle eating a deer carcass.
The back half of the preserve will not be accessible to people, and the land will instead continue to serve as a wildlife corridor. The stretch is already a highway for local critters, including wild cats — connecting the remaining wildlife habitat in the Irish Hills to the Santa Lucia Range.
The next phase of construction involves the parking lot and restrooms, as well as a paved trail providing accessible access to the open lands. That’s all scheduled to begin soon, to be completed by the fall if the funds are raised.
The financial support already provided for the preserve has been monumental, and for that Dettman is grateful.
Once open to the public, she said, the Pismo Preserve will be a boom to the community, providing new lands for outdoor activity and opportunities for children to connect to nature while stimulating economic activity from visitors.
“These hill will always be protected,” she said. “The community came together to do that, and to be a part of that is pretty special.”
For more information or to support the Pismo Preserve visit The Conservancy’s website at www.LCSLO.org.