Plans are advancing to build a $7.4 million trail that will allow hikers, cyclists and runners to travel the scenic stretch of coastline between Morro Bay and Cayucos safely away from traffic on Highway 1.
Work to build the bike and pedestrian path likely won’t begin until 2025, according to San Luis Obispo County Parks planner Elizabeth Kavanaugh.
The trail has been in the works for about 15 years.
Currently, cyclists, runners and hikers are forced to travel along the highway to avoid high-speed vehicle traffic.
The Morro Bay to Cayucos Bikeway/Pedestrian Connector Path, which will run parallel to the highway, will be paved with asphalt to accommodate a wide variety of users and provide access to coastal views, beachfront neighborhoods, public parks and parking areas.
“The intent of the project is to provide a scenic and safe corridor that is separate from motorized, highway traffic,” the San Luis Obispo County Parks Department wrote in the introduction to the project’s environmental impact report. “This project is currently in the final design and engineering phase.”
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What would trail between Morro Bay and Cayucos look like?
The proposed 1.25-mile trail connecting Morro Bay to Cayucos is laid out in five separate but contiguous segments, with a variety of access points to the shore.
“That access was one of my priorities,” Kavanaugh said.
Six present or planned parking areas would provide a variety of jumping-off points.
As mapped in the project’s environmental impact report by SWCA Environmental Consultants, the connector trail’s northernmost segment would start near the site of the future Norma Rose Park on the east side of Highway 1 in Cayucos.
The trail will proceed south on Ocean Avenue to Old Creek Road, where it will cross Highway 1 at the traffic signal over to the ocean side of the highway.
There, it will tie into the main path on Studio Drive, which continues north to an existing beach parking lot and south through the neighborhood at the southern end of Cayucos.
The next segment leaves the developed neighborhoods behind and heads into open shoreline territory, skirting along land previously owned by the Chevron Marine Terminal and ending at the North Point Natural Area parking lot at the north end of Morro Bay.
On the way, a new 130-foot-long bridge will be built alongside the recently upgraded Toro Creek bridge, replacing a pathway over Morro Creek.
The trail then goes turns toward the ocean at Yerba Buena Street before continuing south along Beachcomber Drive. The final link runs along Sandalwood Avenue to the Cloisters Park parking area.
The North Coast trail project would become part of the California Coastal Trail system, which, when completed, will “provide a multi- modal opportunity to walk and bike the length of California’s 1,230-mile-long coast from Oregon to Mexico,” according to the California Coastal Conservancy.
How will project be funded?
The connector trail project is controlled by three separate entities, so a consolidated coastal development permit is required, Shaun Cooper, assistant director of San Luis Obispo County Parks, wrote in an email.
Parts of the trail is located on property owned by the county and the city of Morro Bay.
“It’s complicated to build on such a dynamic site,” Kavanaugh said.
Although the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission and the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors have approved the project, the Coastal Commission still has to weigh in.
“We’re hoping to have the plan heard by the California Coastal Commission sometime next year,” Kavanaugh said “We’re at the 65% design stage. Then it will go to the commission, and we’ll start working with Caltrans on right-of-way agreements.”
The project will be funded in part by an active transportation grant awarded in December by the California Transportation Commission.
“It’s being funded by a bunch of different agencies,” San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson said, including the National Scenic Byways Program and Caltrans.
“County Parks will be charged with maintaining the new trail,” he added.
The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments provided a $650,000 matching grant in December, Kavanaugh said.
“We couldn’t be happier to see this longstanding regional priority move forward,” Pete Rodgers, SLOCOG’s executive director, said at the time.
SLO County Parks is currently working with consulting engineer Cannon and Associates to complete the permits, right-of-way and construction documents, Cooper said.
SLO County supervisor is ‘beyond excited’ for trail project
Kavanaugh said the trail’s concept has been “pretty well received,” based on a survey conducted by SLO County Parks in Morro Bay and Cayucos in May 2022.
More than 90% of survey respondents said they don’t commute on foot or by bike between Morro Bay and Cayucos “because it’s too dangerous,” Kavanaugh said.
If the connector trail were built, she said, more than 80% of respondents said they would use it.
Additionally, she said, 90% of those who responded to the survey “felt this was an important project for their community,” Kavanaugh said.
They’re not the only ones enthusiastic about the project.
“I am beyond excited to see funding coming for the long-awaited project,” Gibson said in December. “The connector will provide a unique opportunity for residents and visitors alike to enjoy our incomparable coastline.
“This project has it all — a chance to enjoy nature with healthy outdoor exercise, an alternative to driving a busy highway and a world-class coastal access that will boost our visitor-serving economy.”
“It’s pretty cool,” Gibson said in September. “It’s going to happen, and we’re looking forward to it’s becoming so.”