Since starting construction on required improvements at the entrance to the Pismo Preserve, including a 54-space parking lot and new sidewalk along a portion of Mattie Road leading to the 900-acre open space area, the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County has had to temporarily close access to the oak-studded property perched high above the city.

“It’s not open right now,” said Kaila Dettman, Land Conservancy executive director, noting the organization’s Discovery Days—the public was able to explore the preserve and its extensive trail system twice monthly without a guide during the events —ended in mid-July when the necessary roadway improvement project broke ground.

The Pismo Preserve provides sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, 11 miles of existing ranch roads and a plethora of trails with routes through oak woodlands and onto coastal ridgelines. When completed (a date is unknown at this time), the property will offer walkers, hikers, bikers, equestrians and other individuals an open space to explore and enjoy for free from sunrise until an hour after sunset, seven days a week.

The ranch land sits off Mattie Road behind Pismo Beach City Hall and was purchased by the Land Conservancy in 2014 through a successful capital campaign that raised the $11.7 million needed to secure the property for preservation and eventual public access. During Discovery Days, which began in summer 2017, individuals were able to access the Preserve via a free shuttle service that stopped at four locations between Pismo Beach and Oceano, including the City Hall parking lot, and explore the property on their own. Prior, the only way to see the property was through docent-led hikes. And in the past two years, there have been at least 8,000 visits to the Pismo Preserve, Dettman said.

“Discovery Days was a way to give people an opportunity to get out (to the property) before we could open it,” Dettman explained. “People were really excited about that (but) once construction started we had to shut all that down.”

To ensure safe and enjoyable access to the Preserve, the final permitted project will consist of improvements to Mattie Road, including a sidewalk, widening of the entrance to the property and construction of several retaining walls. A picnic area, restroom facilities and bike racks are also planned for installation, as is a paved ADA-accessible trail along the lower terrace of the site, so “more than just avid hikers and bikers can experience the Preserve,” Dettman said.

The parking lot has also been designed for people with limited mobility, as well as motorcycles and truck and horse-trailer rigs. The roadway and other site improvements are required by the city of Pismo Beach and other agencies to be completed prior to opening the property to the public, Dettman said

The construction on the south end of Mattie Road is expected to last three to four months and include intermittent lane closures. Once completed, the new sidewalk will extend from the northbound freeway exit to the Preserve’s entry. A retaining wall will also be erected near the site’s entrance, utilities will be installed and the driveway will be widened to improve the line of sight.

“We are charging down the path. Now just the funding is in the way,” Dettman said, noting if someone wrote a check to the Land Conservancy today for the remaining $3 million needed to see the project to fruition, the organization could have the property open to the public within the next several months.

The Land Conservancy is shy about $3 million needed to fund the necessary roadway and other required site improvements to allow unrestricted access to the property. Costs increased for the project during preliminary archaeological work at the site revealed an extensive and previously unrecorded Northern Chumash cemetery on the property.

“The whole site is sensitive,” Dettman said, adding plans had to be redesigned and reworked, which required additional time and increased costs. “The great news is that we worked through all that. We just ask that people be patient. It will definitely all be worth it. All the improvements are critical, and we are really excited to be at this point.”

Dettman added the Land Conservancy is grateful to everyone from city, county and state officials to private donors and from hoteliers to volunteers that helped make the Pismo Preserve become a reality, calling it “a truly amazing community project.”

“It’s just a special property,” she said.

A video of the Pismo Preserve and information on making a donation are available at lcslo.org. For more information, call the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County at (805) 544-9096.