25-Year Dream Fulfilled as Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail Opens near Half Moon Bay

Note: Please see the Cowell-Purisma Trail page for current hours of operation.


July 21, 2011

Cowell-Purisima Trail MapCowell-Purisima Trail Map

Cowell Ranch© William Matthias

(Palo Alto, Calif.) — After 25 years of vision and persistence, Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) and the State Coastal Conservancy today opened the newest section of the California Coastal Trail. The two groups marked the occasion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the trail along the San Mateo Coast.

The Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail runs for approximately three miles along coastal bluffs just south of Half Moon Bay. The trail offers spectacular views of the ocean and the gently sloping foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Visible from the trail are offshore rocks, inaccessible pocket beaches, and a harbor seal haul-out area.

“This gorgeous stretch of the Coastal Trail is the result of a long and fruitful partnership between POST and the Coastal Conservancy as well as landowners, farmers and other groups,” said POST President Walter T. Moore. “With generous support from the conservancy, POST has played a key role in making the Cowell-Purisima Trail a reality, from saving land up front and holding back protective conservation easements, to preserving surrounding farmland and now opening up the trail to the public.”

“This beautiful piece of the coast deserved a great trail, and now it has it,” said Sam Schuchat, executive officer of the conservancy. “This was well worth waiting for.”

The northern end of the trail begins above a small state-managed pocket beach at Cowell State Beach, originally protected by POST in 1987 through a partnership with the conservancy and California State Parks. The trail continues southward across three bridges and past rich, productive farm fields to a bluff-top overlook. Parking and restroom facilities are located at both ends of the trail, and interpretive signs provide visitors with information about surrounding natural and cultural resources and the adjacent farming operation.

The Cowell-Purisima Trail has been designed not only to enhance public recreation along the coast but also to minimize interference with farming operations and to avoid damage to sensitive natural areas. Artichokes, Brussels sprouts and other local crops grow along the trail’s northern half. As a result, this portion of the trail will be closed to the public on weekdays from June through September, when the fields are occasionally sprayed with agricultural chemicals. The southern portion of the trail, which borders land used for cattle grazing, will remain open every day of the year.

The trail is open to hikers and cyclists and, with the exception of a section that passes through the steep banks of Purisima Creek, is accessible to wheelchairs. Under the terms of county and state permit approvals, horses and dogs are not allowed because of food-safety concerns related to the adjacent farm fields.

Plans for the trail began in 1986 when POST obtained an option to purchase 1,270-acre Cowell Ranch. POST, the conservancy and California State Parks then worked together to protect the ranch’s farmland and natural habitats, purchase additional land, and open a new state beach, but the bluff-top trail remained a dream until now.

Through the 1990s state funding was severely limited and plans for the trail were put on hold. After 2000, when state funding became available through voter-approved bond acts, work began on plans for trail construction and an extensive permit process.

In June 2008 the conservancy awarded POST nearly $3 million for trail construction, which was expected to take about six months. Unanticipated difficulties—including a temporary freeze in expenditures of state bond funds—added to delays.

The conservancy has also provided POST with funds to oversee operation and maintenance of the trail for a three-year period, until 2014. After that it is hoped that another government agency or nonprofit organization will be positioned to take over day-to-day management of this long-awaited and beautifully situated trail.

In addition to the Cowell-Purisima Trail, over the past decade POST and the conservancy have worked together to protect bluff-top properties and to design and complete trail and habitat improvements along segments of the Coastal Trail on the San Mateo Coast, including the area surrounding Pigeon Point State Light Station near Pescadero and POST’s Pillar Point Bluff property near Moss Beach. POST also acquired the Wavecrest property in Half Moon Bay for a potential future segment of the Coastal Trail, among other conservation goals.

The conservancy has led statewide planning for the Coastal Trail and has contributed to its construction up and down the California coast. About half of the planned 1,200-mile trail is now open to the public.


Note: Please see the Cowell-Purisma Trail page for current hours of operation.