Home Nature preserves Palo Alto Considering Relaxed Rules for Entry to Foothills Nature Reserve | News

Palo Alto Considering Relaxed Rules for Entry to Foothills Nature Reserve | News

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When Palo Alto opened the once-exclusive Foothills Park to the general public at the end of 2020, visitor numbers instantly increased and a member of city council described a weekend visit to the normally serene nature reserve as ” Disneyland “.

With rangers reporting damaged trails and nearby residents complaining of parking and traffic issues, council responded by lowering the number of people who could be in the new Foothills Nature Reserve, instituting a vehicle charge of 6 $ and exploring new policies, such as a reservation system for people wishing to book a tour.

A year later, the hype has subsided, as have most of the issues. According to staff from the Department of Community Services, the number of visitors has not reached the capacity limit of 500 since the beginning of April. There had been no issues with parking at the reserve and the first issues with visitors straying from the trail were mitigated with signage and, in some cases, rope barriers.

The number of visitors remains much higher than it had been historically, when only Palo Alto residents and their visitors were allowed to visit the reserve. But it has also dropped considerably since the early days. According to data from the Community Services Department, there were around 42,000 visitors to Foothills in January 2021, just before the town applied its entrance fee. That’s 321% more than the city’s historic average for January, according to Daren Anderson, deputy director of the Department of Community Services.

In March and April, there were about 27,000 visitors per month, about 125% more than the historical average. In August and September, the number of visitors fell to 18,847 and 18,450, respectively.

Overall, the number of people in the park has roughly doubled and the provision for residents has been removed. Visits in 2021 increased 107.5% from the three-year average of around 127,387 between 2017 and 2019.

It had no noticeable effect on the reserve, he said. Anderson said in a report to the Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this month that lowering the visitor cap from the traditional 1,000 level to 500 has helped eliminate problems in the park. The new fees, which are only collected on weekends, also helped, he said. About 59% of nature reserve tours take place on weekends.

“When the visitor limit was reduced to 500 and the entrance and weekend charges were implemented, preservation and capacity were significantly more manageable,” said Anderson. “The problems previously observed with visitors off the trails and the increase in parking and traffic problems have diminished considerably.”

Although the city council gave city staff discretion to reduce the number of visitors to 300, the city had no reason to do so, he said.

Given the latest trends, the city is now taking a fresh look at its rules for the reserve – in many cases, to make it easier for visitors to enjoy the reserve. The Parks and Recommendations Commission recommended on December 14 that the city increase the lower limit of the visitor cap from 300 to 400 (although in most circumstances it remains at 500). He also suggested that the city stop exploring a reservation system, which is now deemed unnecessary, and relax the rules for students wishing to visit the park. Currently, students who drive to the park have free entry. Under the new rules, students would benefit from a 50% reduction on annual passes. However, they should only be present in the car and not actually drive.

Anderson said the existing student policy has created confusion for visitors over the past year.

“This has led to a number of arguments at the entry gate, which at times contributes to vehicles being backed up and having to wait to enter,” Anderson said.

The commission also recommended new policies providing free annual passes to members of the military, veterans, and people with disabilities, as defined by the California State Park System (this includes developmental disabilities, auditory, vocal, visual, mental and physical).

While most of the revisions are designed to make it easier to visit the park, the commission was reluctant to remove an existing rule that many cyclists want to see disappear: a ban on cycling through Gate D, which serves as an access point. between Arastradero Reserve and foothills nature reserve. Palo Alto passed this law to comply with a 2005 agreement with Santa Clara County that required the city to provide pedestrian (but not bicycle) access to the Bay-to-Foothills Trail.

Now, with the Foothills Nature Reserve open to the general public, the city’s main cycling advocates are arguing the ban is no longer necessary. Paul Goldstein, a member of the Palo Alto Pedestrian and Cycling Commission, was one of many residents who urged the commission to end the rule. He noted that the two nature reserves allow cycling.

“The current ban makes no sense, since bicycles are allowed on the approaches from both sides,” Goldstein told the committee. “The ban is a relic of when Foothlls was only open to residents of Palo Alto and the gate was made available to Bay-to-Reach hikers as a condition for obtaining grant money. . “

Robert Neff, who also sits on the bicycle committee, argued that there was “no longer an intrinsic reason for the door to be closed to bicycles”. Palo Alto resident Cedric de la Beaujardière said opening the gate would make conditions safer as it would save cyclists from having to use the Page Mill Road to get to the Foothills Nature Reserve.

“The logic of saying, ‘No, we don’t want people doing dangerous things’, doesn’t make sense because it’s much safer to come this way than to hit the road,” de la said. Beaujardière.

The parks commission agreed that opening the gate to cyclists would improve connections in the city’s trail system and increase recreational opportunities for cyclists. Commissioners, however, remained concerned that opening the barrier would lead to an increase in the number of cyclists traveling in the wrong direction on the one-way road and that the city does not have enough staff to enforce compliance. the rules of the trails.

Four Commissioners supported keeping the existing rules, with only Commissioner Keith Reckdahl voting to allow access to bicycles at Gate D and Commissioner David Moss abstaining.

Reckdahl argued that the advantages of expanding access outweigh the disadvantages. He also noted that some cyclists were already ignoring the existing ban.

“The current rules just penalize people who follow the rules,” Reckdahl said. “The people breaking the rules are already going through that gate and are already on the Foothills Reservation. Right now we’re not penalizing the right people.”

Most of his colleagues favored a more cautious approach, with Commissioner Many Brown recommending opening access to bicycles for guided tours on certain days. The majority ultimately decided not to make any changes at this time. Commissioner Jeff Greenfield has suggested that “now is just not a good time to pursue this”, given all the other recent political changes.

Commission President Anne Cribbs agreed and said she supported maintaining the ban for at least the next few years so that the city has a chance to better assess the impacts of its other policies on the nature reserve. .

“I’d like to keep it closed until we get a little rest, acknowledging that we’re in favor of connecting things,” Cribbs said.