Miles of North Coast hills and grasslands are part of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument. (Grey Hayes — Contributed)

DAVENPORT >> Five public trails are nearly complete at the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument on Santa Cruz County’s North Coast, but a date has not yet been set to open the trails, Bureau of Land Management officials said this month.

Construction also recently halted on a visitors parking lot on Cement Plant Road in Davenport. Some residents sent appeals to the Interior Board of Land Appeals to relocate the parking lot, and the board’s recent ruling in their favor has “paused” work on the lot, said Eric Morgan, acting field manager for the Bureau of Land Management. 

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“The BLM will respond to the appeal with intent of resuming construction in the near future,” Morgan wrote in an email Thursday. 

Some Davenport residents said they remain wary about traffic safety as visiting drivers turn on to Cement Plant Road to visit the trails. The area around Cement Plant Road is expected to be the monument’s primary entrance, bureau representatives said.

Some residents added that communication with the Bureau of Land Management has become less clear since the site’s field manager Ben Blom, who took on the role in June 2017, left the position this summer. Morgan, Blom’s replacement, answered a reporter’s questions in early September but declined to discuss project timelines.

“There’s always a conflict between visitor use and nature conservation, so that is something that is missing” in the planning, said Noel Bock, chair of the Davenport North Coast Association. “The Bureau of Land Management are not parks and recreation managers. They are used to protecting land, but not necessarily with a recreation component,” Bock said.

Recreation plans

Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument is about 15 minutes’ drive north of Santa Cruz. On the inland side of Highway 1, it stretches from Laguna Creek to just north of Swanton Road near Davenport. 

As a refuge for native Central Coast plants and animals, the land includes California red-legged frogs, mountain lions and mule deer. Coho salmon and steelhead trout are in the waterways, Bureau of Land Management leaders said. Cultural and archeological sites of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band also are on the property.

The Trust for Public Land gave the property to the Bureau of Land Management in 2014. Planning for public access has been in the works since at least 2017. The bureau’s June 2020 management plan included trails for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. 

It also allows prescribed burns, other efforts to help reduce wildfires and continued livestock grazing, bureau representatives have said.

An updated management plan from June 2021 included 27 miles of new trails for hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders and dog walkers. In that plan, the agency also called for the construction of three day-use parking lots and planned trail connections to San Vicente Redwoods and the North Coast Rail Trail.

A map shows two trails near Cement Plant Road and three trails near Yellow Bank Beach that are nearly complete at the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument on Santa Cruz County’s North Coast. (Bureau of Land Management)

The first phase of the Bureau of Land Management plan includes five trails that are nearly complete. 

On the north end of Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, two trails are accessed from a trailhead off Cement Plant Road just south of Swanton Road.

  • Agua Puerca Trail: 4.69 miles, hiking and biking
  • Molino Bank Loop: 3.04 miles, hiking and biking

Three more trails are near Highway 1 between Laguna Road and Bonny Doon Road.  

  • Yellow Bank North Loop: 3.33 miles, hiking and equestrian
  • Yellow Bank South Loop: 4.61 miles, hiking, biking and equestrian
  • Cotoni Trail: 1.83 miles, hiking and equestrian

In the plan’s second phase, the space would also allow for archery hunting on a portion of the land. A limited permit program could include up to five weekends per year and two to four hunters per weekend, according to the 2021 management plan.

Construction takes place in August at the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument near Davenport. (Grace Stetson — Santa Cruz Local)

Residents’ concerns

Some Davenport residents said their major concern is the proposed park entrance location and safety. An entrance is slated on the north end of the property at Highway 1 and Cement Plant Road in Davenport.

“It’s really quite dangerous, and we’ve pointed that out,” said Bock, the Davenport North Coast Association leader. “We feel strongly that there is a need for a turn pocket,” Bock said. “That is a No. 1 concern for us, and our requests have been rebuffed.”

Morgan, of the Bureau of Land Management, did not respond to questions about the proposed north entrance

Bock said the community was told the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument entrance would be on Laguna Road on the south end of the property. But there have been problems there with potential easements between the Bureau of Land Management and the Trust for Public Lands.  

The monument’s primary entrance has now transitioned to Cement Plant Road, bureau representatives said. 

New Town, a neighborhood north of Cement Plant Road with at least 60 residents, is close to the proposed entrance.

“We’re trying to mitigate the impacts to that little neighborhood,” Bock said. 

Colin Hannon lives with his wife and two children in New Town. Hannon said he has been primarily concerned about safety around the entrance and parking lot location.

“What we’ve been asking for is to put the parking lot down by the (Mocettini Barn), but instead, they’ve started bulldozing this hilltop,” Hannon said. “It’s close to our community, and Cement Plant Road is a substandard road with no sidewalks. Their projected visitorship is going to overrun that road.”

Hannon and Bock participated in the appeals against the Bureau of Land Management at the Interior Board of Land Appeals. Friends of the North Coast, the Rural Bonny Doon Association and the Davenport North Coast Association also participated. Hannon said he hoped to pause the project for review in accordance with the agency’s appeals process. 

Communications

Some of the residents’ other concerns relate to staff changes at the Bureau of Land Management since the bureau took hold of Cotoni-Coast Dairies in 2014. 

Rick Cooper was a long-term field manager who oversaw the property and communicated with residents. He retired in March 2017. Ben Blom replaced Cooper in June 2017. Then Blom left the role this summer. 

Blom was helpful as a community advocate with the agency, said Hannon, the New Town resident.

“Ben Blom told us, ‘You have to trust us and give us a chance’,” Hannon said. “And then he disappeared.”

Now, Interim Field Manager Eric Morgan and Assistant Field Manager Shekeetah Allen Genoway have filled the position.

“They don’t have a permanent, local head of their office,” Hannon said. “We’ve all submitted comments, and the BLM has not really responded to the main gist of our comments.”

Hannon added, “It’s definitely concerning — it just feels like it would have been wiser to listen to the people who live here and have some input about what may be a good idea. Instead, it feels like they shoved us to the side and didn’t listen to what we had to say.”

Bock said she and others “want better coordination with these agencies.” Bock noted that the Cotoni-Coast Dairies would be overseen not only by the Bureau of Land Management, but also would include collaboration with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the County of Santa Cruz.

Bock expressed hope to continue a long-standing relationship and communication between the Davenport North Coast Association and Bureau of Land Management.

“We hope to continue to be able to contact them whenever there’s issues. Sometimes, we have quick responses, or like when they helped us out during (the) CZU” Lightning Complex Fire, Bock said. “It is important for us to have direct contact and work directly with BLM. And we intend to continue to do that.”

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Grace Stetson is a Santa Cruz County freelance journalist who covers housing, homelessness and development. Stetson is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism master's program. Stetson has worked for Dateline NBC, Walt Disney Publishing Worldwide, Metro Silicon Valley, the Six Fifty, Good Times and Lookout Santa Cruz.