Credit: File Photo | Mustang News

It was a fall October day and Kevin Zhang, an avid mountain biker and member of the Cal Poly Cycling Team carved down the rocky, steep trails of West Cuesta Ridge. For mountain bikers on the Central Coast, Cuesta Ridge is home to some of the most challenging trails in the area.

He got to the top of the ridge and overlooked the lush land below. He saw the potential for miles and miles of trails and desperately wanted to drop down to the other side of the ridgetop. There’s just one problem — he couldn’t. 

But sometime in the coming weeks, he will be able to.

In early March, mountain bikers like Zhang and hikers will finally be able to explore miles of new trails on the city’s newest project, the Miossi Open Space Conservation Plan, according to Greg Avakian, the Director of SLO Parks and Recreation Department. 

The city hopes to announce an official opening of the Miossi Open Space in the next few weeks, but the opening date depends on good weather, according to Avakian. 

The new open space is located between upper Poly Canyon and Cuesta Ridge. The 1,400-acre ranch was established in 1917 and was privately owned by the Miossi family until recently. 

In 2018, the city of San Luis Obispo acquired 266 acres of Miossi Ranch for $1.3 million. The city wanted to create a space where residents can enjoy new hiking trails while placing an emphasis on the conservation of the land. 

The city planned on opening the new recreational land to the public in 2019, according to a press release in 2018. However, after the city purchased the land, they underwent extensive environmental assessments and had to install infrastructure like fences and bridges. 

The new Open Space will consist of new single track trails, connections to Rollercoaster Trail to the north and at some point, a connection to Poly Canyon Loop Trail to the west which is anticipated to open in the spring or summer of 2022, according to Robert Hill, the Sustainability and Natural Resources Manager for the city. The trails will be open to both bikers and hikers. 

“The trail looks out over Cal Poly, over the city and even Morro Bay. It’s just amazing,” Avakian said. 

The main trailhead that can be accessed by car will be right off Old Stagecoach Road at the bottom of the Cuesta Grade next to Highway 101. At some point, there will be another trailhead in upper Poly Canyon. Cal Poly land and Cuesta Ridge will finally be connected with this new trail system. 

Zhang said he’s excited about Miossi Ranch trails because there have never been legal or sanctioned trails that connect Cal Poly and Cuesta Ridge before.

“Usually when people hike or bike in Poly Canyon, they stop at Architecture Graveyard or Serenity Swing,” he said. “Now that there’s a trail system all the way to Cuesta Ridge, it’s more accessible to students.” 

Zhang is excited for students and residents to be able to explore new trails and have access to longer hikes right off-campus. 

He also expressed his excitement about having multi-use trails. He believes the opening of Miossi Ranch will promote more people getting outside to hike and bike. 

“Sometimes there’s a divide between people who like to hike and people who like to mountain bike,” he said. “I’m excited there’s going to be sort of a symbiosis between them.”

With people hiking and biking on land that has never been open to the public comes an environmental factor. Hill says after purchasing the land, they had to come up with a conservation plan. 

On the Miossi Open Space, environmental scientists identified many different species such as the California red-legged frog, steelhead trout, gold eagles and many other sensitive and even endangered species.

“Our primary objective is to protect those resources, but then we also know we want to create trails for people to be able to go hiking and biking and see the views,” he said. “So we try to identify where we can build trails to not impact those sensitive resources.”

Since the acquisition of the land, the San Luis Obispo City Ranger Service has been building these trails and installing kiosks and signs.

“Ultimately they’re the people with the boots on the ground that are implementing the vision in the conservation plan,” Hill said. Once the land is ready for the public, they’ll be doing the maintenance, patrolling, and education with members of the public. 

Hill also worked closely with the Miossi family to acquire the land. He met Gabriel Miossi almost a decade ago and had many conversations over time and talked about various different project ideas. Through this long term relationship, they came to an agreement to sell a portion of their land to the city. 

Of the $1.3 million spent, $1 million was in local city funds, $200,000 was from a state fund called the Habitat Conservation Fund, and the local Forbes family donated $100,000. 

Hill thinks the new open space provides students in particular with exciting new experiences. 

“The Miossi Ranch is right next door to Cal Poly. They’re your neighbors,” Hill said. “If you live on campus, you can walk right out your door and get up into the city open space and see amazing views, all the way to Point Sal, which is part of Santa Barbara County.”

Zhang said he wishes Miossi Open Space was open when he was a freshman.

“If Miossi were open my freshman year, it would have given me more opportunities to explore deeper into Poly Canyon and even Cuesta Ridge,” he said. “Cuesta Ridge isn’t very accessible to freshman because the trailhead is at the top of the 101 North.”

To future students hiking on these trails, Hill said, “We’ve been very particular about making good, sustainable trails. It’s really important to stay on the trails and not inadvertently cause any damage. Have fun and be safe.”

Fortunately for Zhang, he will finally be able to drop down onto the other side of the ridge top that he has so many times wanted to explore. During his final quarter at Cal Poly, he will be able to explore the miles of trails he once only saw potential for.

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