By Dylan Head
A hiking trail popular with many Cuesta students may be relocated following a recent decision by the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission.
The Ontario Ridge trail, which climbs a ridge that connects Shell Beach to Avila Beach, is a 4.1 mile loop that has an elevation gain of over 1400 feet.
It is this steep, 45-degree ascent that has Ron McCarthy, the owner of the property on which the trail runs, worried. Concerned about the potential liability if a hiker was injured while hiking on the property, McCarthy has repeatedly issued appeals for the trail’s relocation.
The fight over whether or not the trail should remain in it’s current location has been going on for years. In 2015, McCarthy erected barbed-wire fences across the entrance to the trail as a means of blocking pedestrian access, but was issued a cease and desist order from the county.
This is due to the fact that the trail exists on an easement obtained by the county in 2009.
The proposed route for the new trail would see it’s position shift away from the ridge-line. This would send hikers around the backside of the hill towards Avila Valley and the golf course, while obscuring the trail’s ocean view.
Only when the trail winds up the hill, connecting with the existing network of trails on top of the ridge, would the ocean be visible.
Many SLO locals are opposed to the Planning Commission’s advances to relocate the trail. Tarren Collins, a leading voice in the fight to keep the trail on it’s original path, argues that the public has a right to hike the trail.
“There are generations of families who share a tradition of hiking this portion of the trail,” said Collins, a San Luis native and lawyer. “It sets a dangerous precedent, putting all of our access easements at risk to future development.”
Collins filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval in early May, and there will be a hearing at the Board of Supervisors in the near future.
While McCarthy may have crested one hill in his push to get the trail relocated, the fight over Ontario Ridge is far from over. Both the SLO County Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission are expected to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision.