Tunitas Creek Beach, situated along the bluffs between Half Moon Bay and San Gregorio on San Mateo County's coastside, will soon undergo a public-access makeover, if a county parks department-led initiative moves forward as planned.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in February approved plans to add a walking path to the beach, restrooms, a ranger residence, a parking lot, and, midway down the bluff, a flexible space with tiered seating that could be used for people to gather for picnics or educational events.
Now the project's leaders are moving forward with securing environmental documents and permits with plans to begin construction as soon as summer 2022, said representatives from the San Mateo County Parks Department and the Peninsula Open Space Trust at a recent informational event. Those agencies have worked closely with each other and with the community to develop and move the plans forward.
The rugged property is about 58 acres and includes a 1-mile sandy beach along with a wide range of habitats, said Katherine Wright, San Mateo County parks ranger. The beach is also a popular nesting site for the snowy plover, a federally threatened bird species, she said.
The Board of Supervisors approved the tentative plans for the beach improvements Feb. 23, and now environmental reviews are being prepared to ensure that the project complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. Starting this fall, the final designs for the project are expected to be completed, permits acquired and more outreach done. From there, contracts will be awarded, with a goal of starting construction in summer 2022, putting the project in line to open in spring 2023, according to Taylor Jang, stewardship project manager at the Peninsula Open Space Trust.
Construction is estimated to cost about $7 million and require $1 million in ongoing operations.
A key part of the project is a pedestrian route from the parking area off of State Route 1 to the beach, which currently would also include a roughly 1,300-foot ADA-accessible pedestrian path to the middle portion of the bluff.
As planned, the pedestrian path will continue all the way to the beach, but it won't be able to offer fully ADA-compliant wheelchair access, said Taylor Jang, stewardship project manager at the Peninsula Open Space Trust.
While they are making efforts to accommodate as many users as possible and offer a handrail along the way for visitors who might need it, the steepness of the terrain and the threat of landslides in the area meant that they weren't able to make a fully wheelchair-accessible path all the way down to the beach, he said.
Tunitas Creek and the beach have a long history of natural and human uses, Wright said.
The adjacent Tunitas Creek Open Space Preserve, located east of the beach, protects land that in turn helps protect the watershed, according to Wright. Tunitas Creek supports a number of species, including steelhead trout and Dungeness crab, she said.
The county park system is planning steps to protect the snowy plovers' nesting area when the park is developed, likely by installing fencing during certain times of year, as well as to reduce crab poaching, she added.
The area was once home to the Cotogen tribe of the Ohlone people, one of about five cultural groups that lived along the coast in San Mateo County before Europeans arrived in 1769 with the Portola Expedition, she said.
In the latter half of the 1800s, the property became the home of what would be known as "Gordon's Chute" – a 45-degree ramp built into the cliffs just north of the creek that was used to load freight ships directly from the bluffs, Wright said. The chute was "not very practical," she said, describing how some burlap sacks that were sent sliding down the chute would catch fire because of the friction, which would endanger the ship below.
You can still see the bolts in the rock walls at the beach, she added.
In the early 1900s, the creek became the southern terminus of the Ocean Shore Railroad, which operated between 1905 and 1920 before going bankrupt, partly due to rockslides at Devil's Slide, farther north, she said. From the Tunitas Creek train stop, people used to get off of the train and onto shuttle buses to continue south, she said.
In 2017, the Peninsula Open Space Trust bought the beach's southern coastal bluff with plans to transfer the property to San Mateo County, according to the agency.
Since then, POST said it has worked with San Mateo County Parks and community stakeholders, including a group of community members working on what became the Tunitas Creek Beach Community Advisory Committee, to develop plans for the property.
As with other new parks, one of the big questions is whether pets will be allowed. At the moment, it's still up in the air as to whether dogs or horses might be permitted at the new beach and park, Wright said. The county parks department is currently undergoing feasibility studies to determine the future of canine visitors in county parks, and it's not clear yet what the future will hold for the Tunitas Creek Beach site, she added. Currently, no pets are allowed and the beach is only accessible when visitors are accompanied by park staff.
Go to the county's project webpage to learn more.