Drakes Beach reopens after overhaul of parking lot, wetlands restoration

09/08/2021

The Drakes Beach parking lot reopened on a crowded Labor Day weekend in the Point Reyes National Seashore, following a four-month closure. Over the summer, crews reconfigured the lot and restored a neighboring wetland area that the park paved in its early days; the completion of the project marks one of the final stages of a major road improvement project in the park. Park spokeswoman Christine Beekman said the work went well and didn’t go over budget. “This was another win for a very successful project,” she said. The parking lot’s two-acre footprint lot shrunk by half, but the number of spaces only shrunk from 399 to 314. Several of the picnic tables along the edge of the lot were moved to a shady area next to the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center. By cutting down the parking lot’s size, the park was able to expand the tidal wetland adjacent to the lot—work that was part of a required mitigation measure to remedy the negative habitat impacts of construction on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The two-acre restored wetlands is still relatively bare, but Ms. Beekman said the park will continue planting native vegetation. In the meantime, a temporary fence walls off the wetland from visitors, creating a path for elephant seals to find their way from the ocean to the still water. Elephant seal populations have boomed in the seashore in recent years, and Drakes Beach has become a preferred breeding spot. Once the park observes the path the seals take to the new wetlands, it will install permanent barriers to protect the animals from visitors. “We’re anticipating another dynamic season with our elephant seals,” Ms. Beekman said. The seashore was jammed with visitors over the holiday weekend: Roads were congested and the park announced that many of its parking areas were full. Some locals blamed the especially large crowds on a Sep. 3 San Francisco Chronicle travel column that suggested Point Reyes as an escape from smoke and Labor Day crowds. “Many local residents choose to spend the holiday weekend safe in their home rather than enter the maelstrom of cars and R.V.s choking the roads,” Inverness Park resident Michele Stone wrote in a letter to the Chronicle’s editor, citing Covid and traffic concerns. The work at Drakes Beach cost $4.7 million, mostly funded by the Federal Highways Administration, with some additional funds from Marin County and the National Park Service. It is part of the park’s $49-million road improvement project, which began in April 2020 and should be complete by November. Ghilotti Construction was the main contractor for the project, which repaved Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, chip sealed Limantour Road, and repaved the North and South Beach parking lots, among other improvements. The bridge over Schooner Creek that replaces a culvert will be finished by the end of the month, when the temporary traffic light will be removed.