Tunitas Creek Beach
San Mateo County envisions turning the area around Tunitas Creek Beach into a maintained public park. Review file photo

As part of a longstanding effort to establish a county park at Tunitas Creek Beach, last week, San Mateo County officials voted to purchase the 58-acre property from the Peninsula Open Space Trust for $3.2 million.

The acquisition was supported by a grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy. While the county has managed the coastal property since 2017, the purchase is the latest in a series of steps that officials and partner agencies have taken to preserve the site and make it accessible to the public.

Supervisor Don Horsley extolled the property’s virtues at the May 14 meeting. He described the stretch of coastline as one of the most marvelous in San Mateo County. Horsley acknowledged the work of the Parks Department, in conjunction with other organizations like the Peninsula Open Space Trust, in making the deal possible.

“It is really a phenomenal and exciting addition to our parks system,” he added.

Located several miles south of Half Moon Bay, the coastal property contains a perennial stream and freshwater marsh, alongside several protected species like the California red-legged frog, San Francisco garter snake and the western snowy plover, said Deputy Parks Director Nicholas Calderon.

“But all that said, nothing can beat the natural beauty of this property,” added Calderon, as slides of towering bluffs and tranquil creeks flashed overhead.

But over time, the property’s natural beauty has been severely damaged by poor management and improper public use. Calderon said that the winding paths that traverse the area’s steep bluffs was created by visitors to the beach, serving as a beacon for overnight camping, poaching, bonfires and raves.

POST purchased the property from private owners in 2017, explained Calderon. Since then, it has been managed by the San Mateo County Parks Department.

“Through (that) management, rangers have conducted extensive outreach and education to beach users,” said Calderon. “And we’ve seen a decrease in damaging activities at the property.”

The Parks Department has also worked with state officials to cite poachers and make improvements to the property, including an emergency access path, as well as utilities and additional paving.

Calderon also acknowledged the contributions of state legislators in the longstanding efforts to turn the property into a county park. They secured $5 million toward the project last year.

The conditions for the $3.2 million grant provided by the Coastal Conservancy include requirements that the county maintain and manage the property for public access, issue a report documenting the site’s physical and environmental conditions, and continue to monitor those conditions every five years.

Calderon added that, as part of the agreement with POST, the county would be responsible for managing Purisma Coastal Trail, south of Half Moon Bay.

“I really want to express my appreciation to the Parks Department,” said Horsley. “ We’ve seen pictures of the massive numbers of people and the way in which they were clambering down the access (trail). And it really is dangerous. We know that people have broken ankles and we’ve had to have people carted off the beach, (whether) over the abuse of substances or because of a fall. To get down there was almost impossible.

“The Parks Department, in a really quick period of time, created an access road to get a fire truck or an ambulance down there,” he added. “And they’ve done a remarkable job of controlling (the property). Most of the damaging, illegal activity has pretty much ceased. I credit them with that.”

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