San Luis Obispo City Council approved an ordinance on Nov. 9 that will allow the Winter Evening Hours Program at Cerro San Luis National Reserve, also known as Madonna Mountain, to remain in place. This program will enable cyclists and hikers to apply for permits that will grant them access to 4.9 miles of the trail after dark.
The vote was 3-2 in favor of keeping the program.
“This [the Evening Hours Program] allows this one particular 118-acre open space to stay open for an additional, approximately two and a half hours, for about four months out of the year when there is no daylight savings time,” City Councilwoman Michelle Shoresman said.
Councilmembers Andy Pease and Shoresman, along with Mayor Erica Stewart voted in favor of the program while Jan Marx and Carlyn Christianson opposed the program’s approval.
“We have a lot of common ground as council members, so this is one where we’ve been pretty divided,” Pease said. “So, I honestly didn’t know which way the council would go in terms of the permanence of the program.”
Shoresman said the impact of the program will benefit community members who can’t afford a gym membership or access open space during the day because of their job.
Pease said that those who were opposed to the program in the vote were primarily concerned with its environmental implications.
An environmental checklist form shared by the city stated that the project would have no significant impact on the environment.
“Dusk and early evening is kind of the prime time for [animals] to be out and about and so there was concern that having folks out there during evening hours would be disruptive to them,” Pease said. “I think the whole community really treasures open space and we feel that the evening hiking is an opportunity to connect with our natural environment in a really respectful way.”
The winter evening hours program was first introduced in 2018 as a pilot program; the council’s recent vote will make the program permanent.
With the program in place, the city is allowed to issue 65 permits per day. According to city officials, 2,747 permits were issued in the 2019-2020 season and 2,702 were issued in the 2020-2021 season. Pease added that December tends to be the most popular month for hikers to access the trail after-hours.
The city has scheduled a second reading and final adoption of the policy for tomorrow and there will then be a 30-day period required to pass before the ordinance goes into effect. The earliest date the winter evening hour program can begin will be Dec. 17. Between now and Dec. 17, hikers and cyclists are allowed to be on the trail until one hour after sunset.
With the Evening Hours Program in place, those who want to explore the trail in the evening will have the ability to apply for their permit digitally each time they’d like to gain access to the trail in the evening. For groups of hikers, each person in the party will need to procure a permit.
Click this link to apply for a permit once they become available on Dec. 17.