Thursday, January 10, 2013
The most likely access point from the city of Seaside to the newly minted Fort Ord National Monument is a dead-end road. There’s no visitor center, no parking, no bathrooms – not even any signs, at least not yet.
The monument on the former Army base is less than a year old, and its development depends on a munitions clean-up effort that, two decades in, still has years to go. But some activists say the city’s crazy to not be marketing the heck out of what could be a tourist draw on par with Pinnacles National Monument.
A Nov. 1 version of Seaside’s Economic Opportunity Plan for 2013 included promotion of the monument through directional signage and improved access. But at the City Council’s request, the language was revised to leave only the call for signage.
The omission raised objections from locals who say the city should aggressively market the monument – including a possible visitor center at Seaside’s access point.
On Dec. 20, Seaside residents Kay Cline and Bertrand Deprez delivered petitions with 354 signatures to City Hall, asking the council to revert to the original staff report. Six activists spoke to that effect at the council meeting that evening, but the council finalized the revised economic plan as is.
Deputy City Manager Diana Ingersoll says the city will coordinate with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on signage, and when the BLM opens an entrance to the monument from Seaside – most likely at the still-unfinished Eucalyptus Road off General Jim Moore Boulevard – consider visitor amenities. But staff can’t do much yet, she adds, because the lands connecting Seaside with the national monument are currently under the control of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority. “We can’t even get in there without their permission,” she says. “It kind of ties our hands.”
Henrietta Stern, president of FORT Friends, a group supporting access to Fort Ord’s informal trail network, counts at least 15 existing Fort Ord recreational users’ organizations. But she and Cline are leading the formation of another one focused specifically on the monument.
“It would be wonderful to see some partnerships and really get the promise of that monument-based tourism,” Stern says. “The city of Seaside is so intimately linked with the history of Fort Ord.”
Eric Morgan, BLM’s Fort Ord National Monument manager, welcomes the input. “Those folks were involved in encouraging the president to designate Fort Ord National Monument,” he says. “Now that there’s a monument, they still want to help.”
The monument covers more than half of Fort Ord’s 28,000 acres, but only 7,200 are currently open to the public. The rest need to be cleared of munitions before they can be transferred to the BLM. The cities of Marina, Del Rey Oaks, Monterey and Salinas are all within a few miles of the monument, but there’s currently no direct public access. Morgan says the presidential proclamation creating the monument last April requires a transportation plan to work out those kinks.
Seaside is the only city that encompasses part of the monument, about 1,000 acres still off-limits to the public. “That doesn’t mean Seaside can’t market the open portions,” Morgan says.
Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio says that’s the eventual plan, but the infrastructure just isn’t there yet. “The monument itself doesn’t have any of the things you’d expect for a tourist destination,” he says. “It’s going to be a great tourism draw for the city as it gets refined.”