For those of us who live in the coastal communities of California’s San Mateo County, the opening of the Devil’s Slide Trail finally completes decades-long efforts to preserve scenic beauty while improving Highway 1. The long-awaited tunnel bypass opened in March 2013, leaving the old highway available for development into a scenic trail. A year later, as of March 27, 2014, that trail is now open for enjoyment by all.
The Devil’s Slide Coast Organization is a collaborative effort among national, state, and county governments, as well as local nonprofit organizations. These groups worked together to make the new trail possible. Interpretive signs designed for the County of San Mateo Parks Department describe and explain the history and environmental significance of the area surrounding the new trail.
Devil’s Slide gets its name from the major landslide that has plagued transportation between the coastal communities of Pacifica and Montara for more than a century. First a carriage track, then a railway, then a truck route and highway were built to bring produce from farming areas up to markets in San Francisco. None of these routes were able to withstand the geology of the area – caught between a sliding mountain and the pounding surf.
In the 1960s, the California Department of Transportation announced plans for a six-lane highway that would have cut right through the heart of Montara Mountain. Local residents and statewide activists fought back hard to block that plan. With yet more long-term road closures in 1983 and 1995, another solution was needed. In 1996, county residents voted, by an overwhelming 74% majority, for a tunnel through the mountain.
Environment and Scenic Beauty
The rugged terrain carved by landslide and ocean waves makes for spectacular views. Peregrine Falcons, Red-Tailed Hawks, Pelicans, Cormorants and song birds inhabit the area. Many seabirds nest along the cliffs.
According to the Devil’s Slide Coast Organization, some 439 species of marine plants and animals make their home in the area. Small offshore islands and large rocks are havens for sea birds, as well as marine mammals such as seals and sea lions. In spring and fall, migrating Grey Whales pass by these shores – sometimes no more than 100 feet offshore. The new trail will be the perfect vantage point for spotting migrating whales.
I make the drive between Pacifica and Montara on an almost daily basis. While I won’t miss the regular road closures and detours – which could turn a 15 minute drive into an hour and a half each way – there are downsides to the improvements. Many people were scared to drive that stretch of highway, and now that the tunnel is open we have much heavier traffic than ever before. Still, I’m going to enjoy that trail, as well as the sense of victory that our coastal beauty was preserved.
Devil’s Slide Coast.
County of San Mateo Parks Department. Devil’s Slide Coastal Trails Project.