It’s time to put nighttime hiking ban to bed

James Henderson takes an afternoon hike up the trail near Lizzie Street in San Luis Obispo in 2005.
James Henderson takes an afternoon hike up the trail near Lizzie Street in San Luis Obispo in 2005.

Contrary to what I’ve been told my birthdate and generation define me as, I am not lazy. Every day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., I find myself indoors, in front of a desk.

Even the best office at the best company in San Luis Obispo cannot save me from the inescapable fact that I am deprived of the outdoors during working hours. In the winter, this sad realization becomes even more pronounced as day turns into early night. This situation is exacerbated by a local ordinance passed by the city in 1998 that prohibits nighttime hiking. It also contributes to an elitist culture that stands in stark contrast to the #ShareSLO moniker commonly used to promote tourism in our area by outdoor enthusiasts.

If San Luis Obispo is to truly live up to its reputation as the “happiest city in America” it must afford the things that make such a statement true for all individuals, regardless of race, age, wealth or occupation.

The realities of working in our society demand an adherence to a schedule that often precludes young individuals from taking full advantage of our beautiful nature preserves in San Luis Obispo. According to the latest census reports released in 2015 by Data USA, the median age of residents in San Luis Obispo stands at 25 — a demographic more likely to hold nontraditional jobs, which require work outside the standard 8-to-5 shift.

In many cases, once these average residents find time at the end of the day, they cannot legally take advantage of local hiking and outdoor options, thanks to the city’s prohibition on nighttime hiking.

This problem becomes even more pronounced when you consider that hiking and enjoyment of outdoor activities make people both happier and healthier. The ban on nighttime hiking cultivates a culture that unevenly offers nature’s “perks” to retirees and wealthier citizens of the community who, in many cases, are not beholden to a daytime occupation and are free to take advantage of hiking options any time of the week.

Thanks in large part to the thoughtful and measured consideration of our residents and local government, San Luis Obispo has successfully maintained a strong connection to heritage that spans over a century. However, the citizens of this area should now move to seek out creative solutions to offer more opportunities for a growing demographic to take part in connecting with that heritage through our local nature preserves.

Open space lands where public access is permitted shall be open to the public from dawn to dusk. It shall be unlawful to enter or remain within such lands between one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise of the following day without approval from the director.

City of San Luis Obispo open space regulations

Concerns about the impact to local habitat are both valid and remediable. Structured, but limited, nighttime hiking opportunities could both protect the environment and also allow more people to take advantage of extraordinary local stargazing and fitness treasures.

In many areas across the world, the best displays of nature are not truly realized until they are seen at all hours. Sharing San Luis Obispo should not be limited to any demographic’s schedule. From the Yosemite “firefall” to the Northern Lights, many extraordinary moments are only ever fully experienced at unordinary times.

Matt Zieminski works at iFixit as an account manager. He loves tearing stuff apart, figuring out what makes things tick (or stop ticking), and in his spare time, he’s usually out on a hiking trail in the greater San Luis Obispo area.