The steep terrain and spotty cellular reception of the new Devil’s Slide trail could leave visitors vulnerable to injury and unable to call for help, according to the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury which recommends several ways to improve safety on the former highway.
In a report released Tuesday, the jury recommends county officials look at improving the emergency communication system such as installing a call box, reevaluate allowing horses on the trail, install more fencing to keep people from Bunker Hill and replacing the guardrail with one that children can’t crawl under.
Parks Director Marlene Finley said she welcomes the input.
“When the county was designing the trail, we knew we were going to learn things as people use the trail,” Finley said. “We are adapting as we go.”
The jury reports and recommendations carry no legal weight but subjects are required to respond in writing within 90 days.
The Devil’s Slide Trail is the converted portion of Highway 1 closed by the opening of the Tom Lantos Tunnels in March 2013. The Board of Supervisors spent nearly $2 million turning the highway section into a park with a paved, multi-use trail following the coastline and providing visitors with 1.3 miles of scenic views. The trail opened March 27 and is available around the clock all year although the parking lots and two park rangers are limited to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The jury noted the trail’s “extraordinary cliff views” as a major draw but added that those sheer structures and the area’s history of rock slides carry safety risks, particularly of children. The Parks Department has an annual maintenance budget of $220,823 for the trail but no other money is allocated to repair damage from rock slides. Staff will remove debris with an existing cabbed rock sweeper but if the road slid down toward the ocean, the county will operate it as two separate trails rather than repair it.
The county supervisors also did not set aside money to install emergency phones because the $80,000 price tag was too much. Park rangers carry handheld short-wave radios but, when they aren’t present visitors must rely on their own cellular phones in an area with very unreliable reception. Seven grand jurors touring the spot reported not being able to get service on the majority of the trail.
Finley said she is actually meeting with AT&T representatives at the trail on Thursday to talk about how to provide better cellular coverage in the area.
The jury recommends the county reconsider allowing horses to share the trail with hikers, bikers and dog walkers because the fog can make the surface wet and slippery and the parking lots don’t adequately accommodate loading and unloading of the animals.
Finley said the department hasn’t made any decisions about reevaluating horses but it’s been the subject of much discussion during planning. The county didn’t want to prohibit them because the trial is part of the bigger coastal trail, she said.
Along with the views, another of the trail’s attraction might also prove a risk, according to the jury. Access to the World War II gun emplacement Bunker Hill is restricted because it is reached via an old dirt stairway without handrails. However, the jury said it found evidence of trespassing prior to the trail’s official grand opening and recommends extending the fencing and replacing the existing guardrail which is large enough for children to crawl under. The majority of the trail uses a “k-rail” design but park officials went with the other guardrail as a cost-savings measure there, according to the jury.
Since the jury’s visit, Finley said the parks staff actually extended the fencing on its own after the trail opened.
As for the k-rail, she said there are other portions of the trail that don’t use it, too.
The full report is available at www.sanmateocourt.org/jury
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