Stornetta Public Land getting rave reviews
Published: Thursday, August 18, 2005 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2005 at 9:00 p.m.
A new swath of public land on the Mendocino County coast is winning rave reviews from hikers, birders, kayakers and abalone divers, some of whom worry the new playground may become too popular for its own good.
The Stornetta Public Land in Point Arena, acquired last year by a coalition of private environmental groups and public agencies, is open to the public every day, dawn to dusk.
Weekends are busiest, especially during abalone season, Aug. 1-Nov. 30.
On Saturday nights through October, Point Arena Lighthouse offers night-time tours, giving visitors a chance to see what a dark, usually foggy night looks like from behind a Fresnel lens.
If you go this weekend, leave enough time to stop in Gualala for the 44th annual Art in the Redwoods Festival, a two-day affair with live music, food, wine and art.
Point Arena's newly public property, 1,117 acres at the southern edge of Manchester State Beach, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and features tide-pooling, bird watching, hiking coastal bluffs and abalone -lots of abalone.
"It's gorgeous landscape, no doubt about that," said Larry Emerson, a local. "I hope it stays that way."
More than two miles of coastline and a long stretch of the Garcia River estuary spread out like a regal robe trailing behind the Point Arena Lighthouse at the edge of the sea. Sweeping coastal views from high bluffs, intimate tide pools on low beaches, migrating birds along the Garcia River and plentiful abalone waiting on the rocky shoreline attract a steady stream of visitors. Especially on weekends.
"There were probably 200 cars parked along the big curve right there last weekend," said John Emerson, pointing to a wide bend in the one-lane road leading to the lighthouse. John Emerson takes a $5 parking toll at the entrance of the lighthouse parking lot. A family of raccoons acts as univocal greeters on the road, reminding drivers to keep it slow.
Larry Emerson, John's father, works in the lighthouse museum.
"I think it's great the public has access to all this, but I hope they'll be responsible about it," Larry Emerson said. "The BLM and Fish & Game can only do so much to oversee parking and litter and making sure people obey abalone rules."
Locals aren't the only ones worried about the influx of visitors.
Most abalone divers welcome another spot on the North Coast to do their thing, but some worry that public access might deplete the resource.
"It's pretty easy pickings out here at low tide," said Robert Okumoto of San Mateo on the rocky shore just south of the lighthouse.
"I've been up here a few times since it opened," Okumoto said , "and I don't see a lot of game wardens, but I do see a lot of divers. It's pretty tempting to take undersized abs or go over the limit when there are so many out there. I hope Fish and Game gets a more visible presence up here, especially on weekends."
The state Department of Fish and Game has increased patrols in the area, but it may not always be obvious, according to Mendocino warden Rich Wharton. Wardens from outside the area, often not in uniform, are helping, usually on weekends. And they're writing "a lot of tickets," for abalone infractions, Wharton added.
The Stornetta public property includes an island south of the lighthouse known as Sea Lion Rocks, which will be included in the newly designated California Coastal National Monument, a series of islands, exposed reefs and pinnacles.
A portion of the property will continue to operate as the Stornetta family ranch and vegetable farm.
No matter what part of the year you visit Point Arena, whether you're planning on diving for abs, walking the coast or watching birds, be prepared for fog. Point Arena, sticking several miles out into the Pacific Ocean, gets a lot.
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