Just as the summer heats up, federal park officials will close down access to a popular Marin beach.
In mid to late June the Muir Beach parking lot and pedestrian access will be closed through November so the area can be realigned to help restore natural tidal flow for the benefit of threatened and endangered species.
During the closure businesses in the area will remain open, but the beach will be closed to all but people hiking through from areas like Tennessee Valley along the Coastal Trail.
With the Muir Beach parking lot closed and all services and restrooms removed from the area, the National Park Service is recommending people do not stop at the beach for any extended period.
"People can hike in, but it will be pretty much impossible to park and walk in," said Howard Levitt, spokesman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. "People should generally avoid the beach."
The project is being done in the summer with the goal of finishing it before the rainy season to make the work easier and to avoid disturbing wildlife, including threatened steelhead trout and endangered coho salmon.
The parking lot work is part a larger $13 million project to restore the Big Lagoon and surrounding flood plain, once an integral part of the ecosystem at Muir Beach. Fed by waters of Redwood Creek, it allowed spawning fish a place to stop, rest and get fat before making their trip out to open sea.
But in the 1950s, the 12-acre
freshwater lagoon - which had another 13 acres of surrounding wetlands - started to disappear, choked by fill and levees put in by ranchers so the area could be used for cattle grazing. The current lot, built in the 1980s to access Muir Beach, caused more damage.
"The parking lot essentially acts as a dam," said Carolyn Shoulders, project manager for the National Park Service. "To pull that parking lot out of the flood plain will go along way toward restoring the natural function."
The 500 foot-long lot - built on a pad three to four feet higher than the floodplain - leaves only about 50 feet of width for the creek to flow. Winter rains from a 9-square mile watershed from the top of Mount Tamalpais get funneled through the narrow passage to reach the natural end point at the ocean. Water backs up and scours out sediment as it hits the raised lot.
The lot change will also serve to reduce some of the flooding the community of Muir Beach sees during moderate rains, Shoulders said.
When the area reopens in late fall, visitors will see a new parking lot, new toilets, a new picnic area and an extension of the current pedestrian bridge. While the size of the lot will be reduced, the number of spaces - 175 - will stay the same.
The parking lot and adjoining picnic area see about 260,000 visitors per year.
The re-done lot is the last piece of work funded for the restoration of the area. Other parts of the area have been restored in recent years. Part of the money for the lot, about $2 million, comes from a settlement from the Cosco Busan oil spill. A new Pacific Way Bridge and road in the area is part of the project, but funding has not been located.
Contact Mark Prado via email at email@example.com
©2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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