Who is Safe at Point Lobos?
Was Point Lobos State Reserve here on Monterey Bay a safe place for me to hike this past week? Closed since March because of the pandemic, this magical place, called “the crown jewel of the State Park system,” welcomed me back to its power and beauty that day, alongside a zillion of my closest friends. If you plan to go, get there early.
Of course Point Lobos is safe – it’s a State Reserve, not a State Park. To “reserve” means “to set aside, to preserve for future use.” Which is also a definition of “to make safe.” Considering that Point Lobos in 19th and early 20th century was a busy commercial site for fishing, whaling, abalone canning, coal mining, granite quarrying, cattle raising, and that it almost became a town with hundreds of homes, Point Lobos was indeed saved, and set aside for the future.
Designated a State Reserve in the 1960s, it later became part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary - sanctuary, again, means a safe place. And it’s part of the California State Marine Reserves network, which limits fishing in its waters.
Unlike a Park, a Reserve is managed with the wildlife in mind, not people – no ball games, stay on the trail, closed before sunset when the animals come out to eat.
Which means it’s actually only safe for the animals and trees and ocean, no guaranteed safety for us. It’s closed occasionally in the winter during high surf, high winds, downed trees and mudslides, because the people, not the animals, might get hurt.
Some of us locals (and probably some tourists) grumble that the State folks are being too cautious. On any day, wet or dry, winter or summer, a guest could risk life on the wet rocks, slip on a trail, trip over a branch. Life is dangerous. We go to what has been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea,” to the wild, to, as Thoreau said, see our limits pushed.
Some of us grumbled also when it was closed in March – can’t we be outside and distance and escape our lockdown? They tried keeping it open, but folks were not staying apart or wearing masks, and then the whole coast was coned off to discourage out of town visitors. Now those turnouts and beaches are slowly reopening. Lobos was one of the last to welcome visitors back.
Maybe State Parks is just doing their job, being good stewards, when they close it. The land and trees and animals need some recovery time free of thrill-seeking tourists, some respite after a storm. It’s not all about us and what we want. Stewardship sometimes means saying no.
I did feel safe on my hike at Lobos. This time around everyone was wearing a mask, and rangers cautioned us to distance and be safe. But will I go back? Not sure – that was a lot of people and so many cars parked on the highway to pass coming and going. It was great to see deer and dolphins, lupines and lace lichen, granite and breakers, Whaler’s Cove and Bird Island.
I post these ocean devotions every Wednesday here and on Facebook.Ocean blessings to you all.