Plans for Devil's Slide trail revealed by county

The portion of state Highway 1 formerly known as Devil's Slide will be converted to a 1.3-mile hiking and biking trail, and San Mateo County officials have finally revealed the plans to the public.

The trail will hug the coast for 0.9 miles, with 0.4 miles of it running slightly inland. The space devoted to bike trails will be 12 feet wide, 6 feet for one direction and 6 for the other, and the remaining 12 feet of width will be a walking trail.

“We're pretty excited about this,” county Supervisor Don Horsley said at a community meeting about the $1.2 million project last week before showing a PowerPoint presentation full of mockups. “People are actually going to be able to walk along the coast.”

Plans for this trail go back as far as plans to replace Devil's Slide, a particularly steep and hazardous former section of Highway 1 that was frequently closed due to landslides. The new portion of highway, the Tom Lantos Tunnels, was completed in March, and now San Mateo County is taking over the abandoned portion of the highway from Caltrans to develop it into a recreational area.

The new trail will connect to the pre-existing California Coastal Trail, and the county plans to build restrooms, drinking fountains, overlooks, and a 6-foot-tall fence along some portions to protect bird habitats, officials said.

But budget and time constraints could delay the project's completion. The coastal development permit that has been filed requires that the trail construction be completed by March. If the county can't open the trail by then, it will have to file a new permit, which may include filing new environmental impact reports.

Because of the time and budget constraints, pre-existing K-rails — those short concrete barriers along the outer edges of the former highway — will remain alongside the walking trail to keep people from plunging off the roadside's steep cliffs into the ocean. While the rails are not tall enough to obstruct views, some trail supporters are frustrated by the aesthetic effect of the barriers. The current plan is to paint the barriers tan so they're slightly more pleasing to the eye.

Still others are concerned with the proposed bird fencing along certain portions of the trail. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mandates that such sensitive habitats be protected from humans with 6-foot fences covered with a vinyl coating.

“Cars don't seem to bother them, but people walking on the trails do,” said landscape architect Sarah Sutton, who's working on the environmental aspects of the trail project.

Resident and environmental activist Barbara Kossy worries about the environmental impact of the fencing.

“What if the vinyl covering becomes a microvinyl over time and becomes a pollutant?” Kossy asked at Thursday's meeting. Other meeting attendees fretted that these chain-link, vinyl-coated fences will block “some of the best views along the trail.”

San Mateo County Parks Superintendent Gary Lockman assured Kossy that the fence's vinyl coating will not fly off into the ocean, and other officials insisted that visitors will still be able to look through the fences and see the views.

The former roadway won't be entirely repaved, but it will be “microsurfaced,” or covered with a quarter-inch of gravel slurry that should fill in gaps and ruts in the road to even out the surface, particularly for cyclists so they don't flip over while riding along the trail.

The trail should be finished by March, officials said. Another public meeting is being held Thursday, Aug. 1, in Redwood City. Public comments will still be accepted via email at until Aug. 9.

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