Clothing is optional at Pirate's Cove, but safety is not

Pirate's Cove in Avila Beach.
Pirate's Cove in Avila Beach. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Is San Luis Obispo County’s only clothing-optional beach about to be gentrified out of existence?

We don’t believe so, but that’s one of the fears raised by those opposing improvements at Pirate’s Cove. The $1.5 million in upgrades, which the Board of Supervisors will consider today, consist of a paved parking lot for up to 70 vehicles, restrooms, picnic tables and an improved access path and stairway down to the beach, plus the completion of a half-mile segment of the California Coastal Trail, from Cave Landing Road to Shell Beach.

The county Planning Commission already has given the project an OK, but opponents are appealing that and are urging the Board of Supervisors to keep the area “wild, free and natural.”

We understand the desire to maintain the status quo. Pirate’s Cove has been a clothing-optional beach for several decades; its seclusion and relative inaccessibility make it a good spot, inasmuch as the general public isn’t likely to accidentally stumble upon nude sunbathers.

But this is now public property — the county accepted title to the land in February — and the county has an obligation to maintain it in a safe manner.

That’s hardly the case now: The rutted dirt parking lot and the steep trail down to the beach can make access difficult, and sometimes even dangerous. The county can’t look the other way and allow the public to continue to use makeshift stairs and a rope to access a public beach.

That said, nude sunbathing is a well-established use at Pirate’s Cove, and we don’t see why that should have to change. The beach will still be secluded, and it will still entail a bit of a hike to get there and back. The improvements will simply make it safer and more convenient for those who choose to make the trek.

The idea that a few picnic tables and a paved parking area will somehow lure unsuspecting families to a clothing-optional beach is absurd. Locals already know that Pirate’s Cove is a “nude beach,” and they stay away if they aren’t interested — much as those who don’t care for the noise of ATVs avoid the Oceano Dunes.

If we’re worried about tourists wandering onto the beach by accident, then let’s post a sign or two in the parking lot: “Be advised, Pirate’s Cove is a clothing-optional beach.”

After all, those who are offended by nudity — or don’t want to expose their children to it — have plenty of other beaches they can frequent.

We’re all for keeping some places “wild, free and natural” but a county-owned beach that’s open to the public for recreation must be maintained in a safe condition — regardless of what the beach-goers are or are not wearing.

We strongly urge the Board of Supervisors to deny the appeal and allow the Pirate’s Cove improvements to move forward.