When Palo Alto opened the as soon as unique Foothills Park to the broader public on the finish of 2020, the variety of guests immediately spiked and one City Council member described a weekend go to to the usually serene nature protect as “Disneyland.”
With rangers reporting broken trails and close by residents complaining about parking and visitors issues, the council reacted by decreasing the cap on the quantity of people that may be on the newly christened Foothills Nature Preserve, by instituting a $6 automobile payment and by exploring new insurance policies, similar to a reservation system for folks wishing to e book a go to.
A 12 months later, the hype has diminished and so have many of the issues. According to Community Services Department employees, the variety of guests hasn’t reached the capability restrict of 500 since early April. There hadn’t been any parking issues on the protect and the early issues with guests wandering off path have been alleviated by means of signage and, in some circumstances, rope obstacles.
The variety of guests stays far larger than it had been traditionally, when solely Palo Alto residents and their guests had been allowed to go to the protect. But it has additionally dipped considerably for the reason that early days. According to Community Services Department information, there have been about 42,000 guests to Foothills in January 2021, simply earlier than town applied its entrance payment. This is 321% larger than town’s historic common for January, in keeping with Daren Anderson, assistant director at Community Services Department.
In March and April, there have been about 27,000 guests per thirty days, which was about 125% larger than historic common. By August and September, the variety of guests fell to 18,847 and 18,450, respectively.
Overall, the variety of folks on the park has roughly doubled with the resident-only provision eradicated. Visitation in 2021 had a rise of 107.5% from the three-year common of about 127,387 between 2017 and 2019.
That has not had a noticeable impact on the protect, he mentioned. Anderson mentioned in a report back to the Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this month that the decreasing of the customer cap from the standard degree of 1,000 to 500 has helped remove issues within the park. The new payment, which is barely being collected on the weekends, additionally helped, he mentioned. About 59% of the visits to the character protect happen on the weekends.
“When the customer restrict was diminished to 500 and the and weekend entry payment was applied, the preservation and capability have been noticeably extra manageable,” Anderson mentioned. “Previously noticed points with guests going off path and elevated parking and visitors points have significantly diminished.”
While the council gave metropolis employees the discretion to decrease the customer capability to 300, town had not had any causes to take action, he mentioned.
Given the most recent developments, town is now taking a recent have a look at its rules for the protect — in lots of circumstances to make it simpler for guests to benefit from the protect. The Parks and Recommendation Commission really useful on Dec. 14 that town elevate the decrease restrict of the customer cap from 300 to 400 (although beneath most circumstances it will stay at 500). It additionally instructed that town halt exploration of a reservation system, which is now deemed pointless, and that it loosen the rules for college students wishing to go to the park. Currently, college students who drive to the park get free entry. Under the brand new rules, college students would get a 50% low cost on annual passes. However, they might solely should be current within the automobile and never truly driving.
Anderson mentioned the prevailing scholar coverage has created confusion for guests over the previous 12 months.
“It’s led to a variety of arguments on the entrance station, which typically contributes to autos backing up and having to attend to get in,” Anderson mentioned.
The fee additionally really useful new insurance policies that present free annual passes to members of the navy, veterans and people with disabilities, as outlined by the California State Parks system (this contains developmental, listening to, speech, visible, psychological and bodily disabilities).
While many of the revisions are designed to make visitation to the park simpler, the fee balked at eradicating one present rule that many within the bicycling neighborhood need to see gone: a prohibition on bicycling by means of Gate D, which serves as an entry level between Arastradero Preserve and the Foothills Nature Preserve. Palo Alto adopted this legislation to adjust to a 2005 settlement with Santa Clara County that required town to offer pedestrian (although not bicycle) entry to the Bay-to-Foothills path.
Now, with Foothills Nature Preserve open to the broader public, town’s main bike advocates are arguing that the prohibition is now not mandatory. Paul Goldstein, a member of the Palo Alto Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission, was certainly one of a number of residents who urged the fee to abolish the rule. He famous that each nature preserves permit bicycling.
“The present prohibition is senseless, since bicycles are permitted on the approaches at each side,” Goldstein advised the fee. “The prohibition is a relic of the time that Foothlls was open to Palo Alto residents solely and the gate was made accessible to hikers to the Bay-to-Reach as a situation to get grant cash.”
Robert Neff, who additionally serves on the bike fee, argued that there’s “no intrinsic cause for the gate to be closed to bicycles anymore.” Palo Alto resident Cedric de la Beaujardiere concurred and mentioned that opening the gate would make situations safer as a result of it will obviate the necessity for bicyclists to depend on Page Mill Road to get to Foothills Nature Preserve.
“The logic of claiming, ‘No we do not need individuals who do harmful issues,’ does not make sense as a result of it is a lot safer to be coming in that manner than arising the highway,” de la Beaujardiere mentioned.
The parks fee agreed that opening the gate to bicyclists would enhance connections within the metropolis’s path community and improve leisure alternatives for bicyclists. Commissioners remained involved, nonetheless, that opening the gate would spur a rise in bicyclists driving the improper manner on the one-way highway and town doesn’t have sufficient staffing in place to implement compliance with path rules.
Four commissioners supported holding the prevailing rules in place, with solely Commissioner Keith Reckdahl voting to permit bicycle entry at Gate D and Commissioner David Moss abstaining.
Reckdahl argued that the upsides in increasing entry outweigh the downsides. He additionally famous that some bicyclists already ignore the prevailing prohibition.
“The present rules simply penalize individuals who comply with the rules,” Reckdahl mentioned. “The individuals who do not comply with the rules are already going by means of that gate and are already in Foothills protect. Right now, we’re not penalizing the appropriate folks.”
Most of his colleagues favored a extra cautious method, with Commissioner Many Brown recommending opening bike entry for guided excursions on sure days. The majority in the end determined to not transfer forward with any adjustments presently. Commissioner Jeff Greenfield instructed that “the timing simply is not proper to be pursuing this,” given all the opposite latest coverage adjustments.
Commission Chair Anne Cribbs agreed and mentioned she helps holding the prohibition in place for not less than the subsequent few years in order that town has an opportunity to higher assess the impacts of its different insurance policies within the nature protect.
“I’d prefer to hold it closed till we have now a little bit of a relaxation, acknowledging that we’re in favor of connecting issues,” Cribbs mentioned.