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What's next for San Luis Obispo's night hiking pilot program?

Posted at 7:14 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 02:16:52-05

The night hiking program at Cerro San Luis is coming to a close.

After three seasons, the pilot program expires on Sunday, March 14.

On March 16, the San Luis Obispo City Council will provide some direction on what's next.

From early November to mid-March, hikers and bikers are able to utilize the roughly five miles of trails on what's known as Madonna Mountain in the dark.

"If you work late or you're not able to hike during the day it was a nice option," said Hiker, Amanda Lenik.

The night hiking program started in 2018 as a two year pilot program but the city council extended the program for a third season due to COVID.

In a phone call on Thursday, Bob Hill, the city's Natural Resources Manager told me November, January, February and March were fairly quiet.

65 permits a night were able to be issued under the program essentially allowing people on the mountain until 8:30 p.m. versus the typical one hour after sunset.

"I love that we have that opportunity," Lenik said.

Hill said when the Christmas lights go up though that's when it becomes popular. They even had to turn people away.

"The time that I used the permit was during Christmas when they have the Christmas tree up there and it was really fun," Lenik explained.

More than 7,700 permits were issued in total over the past three years. The majority were hikers with a little over 800 total mountain bikers.

We interviewed former San Luis Obispo City Mayor, Jan Marx when the pilot program was kicking off several years ago. The now council member says she's still against the program.

"During the night, a lot of animal activity goes on that can be easily disturbed by the presence of human beings and normally, the wildlife gets a rest from humans in the open space at night," Marx explained.

Four wildlife game cameras were installed to monitor and track nocturnal wildlife during the program.

"I think that as long as you're respectful and you stay on the trail that there's plenty of open space around us and I think that animals might have other options of other places than our trails," Lenik said.

Hill said Cerro San Luis was chosen because it's not in a neighborhood, there is good access in case of an emergency, and it's an ecological island, not connected to bigger areas of wildlife.

He added that there was only one call for an emergency during the program. He said someone had a badly sprained ankle but they made it out on their own.

"To me, it's wrongheaded," Marx said. "It was wrongheaded in the first place and it would be a misuse of city funds to continue the program and make it permanent."

It'll be up to council to provide direction on the program and from there, the program could come back in the Fall to be adopted.

No final action will be made during Tuesday's council meeting. Council will provide direction to keep, end, or modify the program.

If the program is renewed, it'll cost an estimated $175,000 in general fund dollars for things like an environmental review and ranger service.