Ari Burack/Special to the S.f. ExaminerDevil's Slide has gained a hiking trail.

New parks leader in San Mateo County has a devil of a first project

One of the first projects on tap for the new county parks chief is completing the transformation of the old Devil’s Slide portion of state Highway 1 into a hiking and biking trail – and fast.

Marlene Finely, a forester with decades of experience in the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, was appointed this week to head up the San Mateo County Parks Department, which is undergoing a full-scale remodel as it leaves the purview of the Public Works Department and comes into its own. She starts Nov. 10.

Aside from overseeing the county’s 16,183 acres of parks and trails and supervising 60 employees, Finely will be in charge of completing the Devil’s Slide Project. Last week, county officials approved the final plans.

What was formerly a treacherous section of the highway prone to landslides is to be transformed into a 1.3-mile recreational path. The conversion, which will include the construction of overlooks and road resurfacing, has a six-month timeline and a $1.2 million budget.

If the county doesn’t meet its March deadline for the trail, it will be responsible for filing new environmental impact reports, which would delay completion.

But the Devil’s Slide Project is already in motion. After the new Tom Lantos Tunnels opened in March, the county took over the portion of highway from Caltrans and began the planning process. The Parks and Recreation Commission approved final plans Oct. 1.

The commission also recently approved the 10 “interpretive panels,” or signs, that will be placed along the trail. The signs will offer information about the history, geology and wildlife of Devil’s Slide and surrounding coastal areas.

There will be fencing erected alongside portions of the new trail to protect bird habitats, and some local residents have already expressed concerns that the fences will block some of the best views the trail has to offer. Other concerns involve the pre-existing K-rails, which will remain alongside the trail for safety. Some residents find them aesthetically distasteful.

Finely will be charged with mitigating such issues, and she expressed optimism and excitement for the new position.

“That’s a park system that’s well cared for, that has a thriving ecosystem that people can come out and enjoy and learn more about nature,” Finely said in a statement announcing her appointment.

County Supervisor Don Horsely has high expectations for Finely, highlighting her “experience and enthusiasm.”

Finely currently works in Utah, but will be relocating soon to San Mateo County, she said. She hopes to make San Mateo County parks “world-class.”

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