Starting next fall, the Cerro San Luis trail, commonly known as Madonna Mountain, will have adjusted hours to allow people to use the trail after dark.
Last week, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted 3-2 to approve a two-year pilot program that will extend the trail’s hours to 8:30 p.m. About 65 people per day will be able to register for an online permit that will allow them access in the evening, according to Natural Resources Manager Robert Hill who spoke about the program at the meeting Jan. 16.
This program will be implemented starting Nov. 4 of this year and will run until March 10, 2019. The program will then pick back up Nov. 3, 2019 and last until March 8, 2020. These dates take daylight savings into account, Hill said.
San Luis Obispo currently has 13 open spaces and sites. Each trail was considered for the pilot program, but Cerro San Luis was thought to be the most reasonable based on size, terrain and availability, according to Hill.
During the pilot program, patrolling rangers and technology will be monitoring the 4.9 miles of Cerro San Luis trails. Hill said both human and wildlife safety are being taken into account.
While no direct impacts on wildlife are expected, there are possible indirect disturbances that this program may inflict on animals. Disruption of foraging, increased energy usage, change in breeding behaviors, increased risk for predation and abandonment of habitat are all possible issues, Hill said.
The trail will have four wildlife game cameras, cover boards, detection equipment, field surveys and even an EcoCounter device that has a laser beam that counts people when they enter and leave the reserve, according to Hill.
“Mother Nature is very complex and ecological systems are very complex,” Hill said. “It would be challenging to know the extent and severity of these particular impacts and to isolate those findings in such a way that we could conclude it’s definitely contributable to these activities.”
Some Cal Poly students are both excited and concerned about this new program.
“I think the safety of people comes first,” child development sophomore Ellie Hensley said. “As long as I know I’m safe up there I will definitely create a hobby out of hiking after dark.”
Two city council members voted against the pilot program regardless of these protections.
“As a community we are working to achieve the right balance of access and preservation,” councilwoman Andy Pease said. “At this point, I believe we are already at a good balance, without additional evening access, so I voted no.”
Pease said she hopes to find alternative opportunities in the future for physical activity and connecting with nature at night.