The highly-anticipated Three Bridges Oak Preserve hiking trail in Atascadero, in the works for several years, will officially open the morning of June 30, just in time for the 4th of July weekend. The trailhead parking lot will finally be unlocked and there will be Atascadero Land Preservation Society board members on site to greet visitors and offer an orientation to the preserve.
Emerging from the trail on a preview hike last Friday, local resident Christy O’Hara said, “I thought it was beautiful and there was lot of beautiful crossings over the creek. It was just a really elegant walk and also interesting in terms of how this kind of management practice for trail building has been accomplished through this.”
ALPS owns and manages the Three Bridges Oak Preserve, named as such because of its proximity to where Highway 41 crosses the Atascadero Creek three times. With funds awarded by the State of California, ALPS purchased the 103 acre property in 2011.
In addition to a partnership with the City of Atascadero, “We a had nationally known trail design consultant (Don Beers, ret.),” said Bruce Bonifas, one of the lead ALPS volunteers leading the hike that day. “So he gave us the best sustainable trail design for this specific piece of property and then we followed state park trail guidelines to the letter so when we got 30 inches of rain this year we suffered no damage whatsoever to the trail system, which surprised even me. I think the community can be really proud of what we’ve done out here and show it off to their visitors. Everyone that comes out here says this is fantastic.”
In 2014 a dedicated group of volunteers initiated building the trails and in 2015 a generous grant enabled ALPS to contract the California Conservation Corps to expand trail building. Trail construction was completed in May 2017.
Visitors can look forward to enjoying a parcel of pristine California coastal mountain land offering great diversity in both plant communities and natural habitat for native species. The ecology transitions from the riparian corridor along Atascadero Creek, up through oak grasslands, through pristine California chaparral, and into a shaded mix of chaparral and oak and madrone trees at the top of the preserve.
Wildlife spotted on the preserve include deer, tree squirrels, chipmunks, grey fox, lizards, salamanders and various bird species. As visitors traverse the land from the 950-foot creek elevation to the highest point at 1640 feet, they will be rewarded with numerous vistas culminating in a panoramic view of the greater Salinas River Valley, framed by the Santa Lucia Mountains on the west and the Temblor Range on the east.
The total trail system is 4 miles long, offering lower elevation options with shorter distances. The majority of the trails are multi-use, allowing for hiking, biking and equestrian use. However, due to fragile soil conditions, the top of the preserve will be limited to hikers only. Future plans include a lower-elevation connector trail from the preserve to the Los Padres National Forest.
“It’s also an escape route for this isolated neighborhood in case of catastrophic fires and things like that,” Bonifas said. “It’s a million plus facility for the residents of Atascadero. It’s quite an asset to the community and quite a contribution by my organization (ALPS) and the city’s partnership.”
The trailhead is located at the western end of Carmelita Avenue adjacent to Highway 41. Access to the trailhead will be off of the western end Carmelita Avenue. Visitors will then proceed from the the trailhead under the easternmost Highway 41 bridge and cross Atascadero Creek onto the preserve. There will be ample signage along the way to assist first time users. Because this route requires visitors to cross Atascadero Creek, TBOP will be a seasonal park, only open when water flow is low or dry; typically April through November. Last winter, the creek was dry until December 15.
Atascadero Mutual Water Company also partnered with the ALPs to “put on the watershed hikes, exposing people and giving them a better appreciation for the value of their water and understanding how the watershed works here,” AMWC conservation manager Jamie Hendrickson said. “We just crossed Atascadero Creek and just downstream is the Salinas RIver where our wells are. So it helps put a really good perspective on how what we do at home and how we use our water impacts our water resources.”
ALPS is a local nonprofit land conservancy. Supported primarily through memberships, ALPS is entirely a volunteer organization focusing on preserving special open space lands within the city limits, caring for native forests and assisting with environmental education activities for our schools. If you would like to become a member, volunteer or learn more about ALPS activities, visit www.supportALPS.com.
You may contact reporter Madeline Vail at [email protected]