Fitzgerald Marine Reserve

A trail into the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is marked as closed pending upcoming construction. Projects at the environmentally sensitive site have concerned some local residents.

People from all walks of life come to enjoy the clear shores and lush trails of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, and San Mateo County agencies are working on projects to make it accessible to all. Not everyone is happy with the changes, however.

At 11 a.m. on Oct. 24, Moss Beach residents turned out to the reserve’s parking lot for a planned San Mateo County Planning Commission field study meeting. Residents hoped to get information about potential parking lot features that could impact their neighborhood, including more parking spaces to add to the existing 39 and a new exit.

The meeting was canceled due to a lack of quorum and neighbors retreated to their homes.

“I’m going to be sitting here breathing their exhaust fumes, and that’s not why I’m here,” said Robert McLaughlin of Moss Beach. “I think they need to be more closely engaged with the residents in the neighborhood.”

McLaughlin makes a point to attend meetings focused on the development of the reserve whenever he can, especially when they are held locally. County project planner Angela Chavez said the parking lot meeting has been tentatively rescheduled for Nov. 14.

In the meantime, bright orange fences and caution tape stretch across the reserve’s green landscape as a separate project is underway along the reserve’s eastern edge. Cypress Avenue and North Lake Street are being linked by a trail that meets requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Eucalyptus trees and cypress tress have been cleared to make way for a 60-foot-long fiberglass bridge and an 8-foot-wide gravel pathway.

“This is a multi-use trail for everybody,” said Senior Planner Sam Herzberg. “You shouldn’t have to walk on the shoulder of Highway 1 to get from Point A to Point B … We want safe passage for everyone.”

Construction at Dardanelle develops one trail segment of many that have been developed as part of the California Coastal Trail, which seeks to offer continuous trail systems for hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

Since the 1970s, federal, state and local project planners have had to orchestrate their efforts in compliance with the California Coastal Act, which protects the environment.

Striking a balance has sometimes been difficult.

“I’ve seen a lot of trails built, but I’ve never seen this level of disturbance,” said Lennie Roberts, a legislative advocate for the environmental watchdog Committee for Green Foothills. “It’s a lot better to avoid the damage in the first place if you can. It will never be the same.”

Construction has been carefully executed to meet permitting requirements, said Herzberg.

“It (previously) wasn’t built to any standard, and now we’re building it to a standard,” he said.

Herzberg recounts that there were 16 public hearings as well as mailings that reached more than 800 agencies and residents about a 2004 master plan that made the current Fitzgerald Marine Reserve project possible.

After the master plan was approved, planning for Dardanelle Trail’s construction began in 2007.

The present design includes features that are meant to minimize environmental impact, such as a pathway made of porous material, rather than asphalt. It’s narrower than what was first planned.

The plan also offers protection of a beloved grove of western sword ferns and other plants that will be stored in a nursery until they can be replanted after the construction is finished.

“Our goal is to leave the area in the condition we found it, if not better,” said Herzberg.

Midcoast Community Council Secretary Lisa Ketcham is concerned that plants that absorbed run-off water and secured the soil to prevent erosion have been scraped off, leading to long-term consequences.

“This is awful. They’ve taken away the natural beauty. And for what?” said Patricia Erickson, whose house faces the proposed site of the bridge.

Erickson worries about the increased foot traffic the bridge will bring, but she already misses the greenery.

“That distresses you more,” she said.

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