Catalina Island News

Improvements at Ben Weston Beach Welcome the Summer Season

Catalina Island Conservancy

Amenities, environmental protection first steps, with road permits still pending

It was a clear, sunny day that greeted the 25 participants of a work day held on Ben Weston Beach on Thursday, May 25-complete with ocean breezes and an eagle soaring in the distance.

Members of the Windward Beaches Working Group (WBWG), guests from the mainland, and Conservancy Board and Staff members transported more than 1800 pounds of materials down a steep trail to prep for the coming of summer and, in the longer term, to ready for renewed visitation that will be afforded by the long-awaited road. Construction of the road is pending permits from Los Angeles County and other agencies.

"Today is a start to something we've all been looking forward to," said Cal Parsons, member of the WBWG and the Conservancy Board who worked with Facilities Director Lenny Altherr and other Conservancy staff to organize the workday. "We are happy to be making some progress on the beach-seeing some physical changes after all the planning-and today was that first step," Parsons said.

Scheduled for this day were projects that support both recreational and conservation goals, including adding amenities for camping and day use, adding posts and rope protecting dune habitat rare to Catalina and to Southern California, and a general beach clean-up.

For camping and day use, two new heavy-duty picnic tables made of recycled materials were painstakingly hauled down the cliff-side trail piece-by-piece and assembled. The new picnic tables were put into place below the existing palapa on the west end of the beach. Work was done to refresh the old palapa with newly cut palm fronds for added shade.

Conservancy conservation staff flagged the edges of the dune field, home to some of Southern California's rarest plant life including "Red Sand Verbena"-featuring fleshy, rounded, light-green leaves and iridescent magenta flowers-and "Silver Beach Bur"-a silver-grey groundcover with fine, finger-like leaves (see accompanying "Dunes" short story and images).

With proper protection and planting to fill in the empty spots, staff believes the dune field will fill in, creating a beautiful carpet of green, silver, and magenta flowers. "With protection in place and everyone's help, we could see a very healthy dune in just three years," predicts John Knapp, Manager of the Invasive Plant Program for the Conservancy.

The team worked to create three campsites at the west (palapa) end of the beach-the beginning of implementing the Windward Beaches Conceptual Master plan developed by the WBWG with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program late last year. The WBWG envisioned 10 total camping sites, some of which will be added at the other end of the beach, and others, potentially nearer the parking area when that is put in. The site will be "adjusted as we go - balancing needs for use with the changing nature of the beach, and with our conservation goals in mind," noted Ann Muscat, Conservancy President.

"Planning for Ben Weston Beach and the other Windward Beaches was a process of dialogue and compromise to try and meet everyone's needs," she continued. We'll see how the beach in its current form meets the needs of campers and day visitors, and our conservation goals, and adjust from there."

The team worked all day to install pathway posts that will later be linked together with rope, including a pathway opened for campers' convenience down the middle of the beach through the large dune field. They gathered stones from across the beach, using them to build fire rings, and to reinforce the new posts. "Sea Rocket," a dune plant not native to Catalina that pushes out rare natives, was removed one clump or seedling at a time, and trash was gathered and packed out-more than 150 pounds of it. (Volunteers with the Conservancy's Volunteer Vacation program, community volunteer Steve Story and Knapp returned this past week and removed much of the rest of the pesky Sea Rocket west of the stream bed, and also installed additional posts.)

Muscat added that she is appreciative for the ongoing community support for implementation of the hard-won plans for the Windward Beaches. She said she was "extremely grateful to each and every person who turned out to lend their support to the effort on Thursday."

"It is labor-intensive work, and all the volunteers did it will such great enthusiasm and cheer," Muscat continued. "I have a renewed appreciation for each and every member of the Conservancy team, and others on the Island who do this kind of work day in and day out. I applaud every one of them."

Muscat and the Conservancy Executive Team extend their thanks to the following people who participated in the recent Ben Weston Work Day: Lenny Altherr, Randy Brannock, Orne Carstarphen, Rick Harp, Wendy Harp, Michelle Harp, Andrew Harp, Ashley Harp, Cliff Hague, Mike Herrera, Denise Knapp, John Knapp, Marie Knowles, Cal Parsons, Sue Rikalo, Geoff Rusack and three guests, Jessica Schauer, and Mary Stein. Special thanks, also, to Geoff Rusack for supplying lunch, and to Alene Dean for coordination.

Future Plans for Ben Weston
Amenities have only begun to be deployed, and revegetation work done to give campers and the dunes a boost at Ben Weston Beach, according to Leslie Baer, Conservancy Communications Officer who will work with the Windward Beaches Working Group to plan additional work days. Baer says the Conservancy will take recommendations from the WBWG as to which days are best to get folks out to team on the continued rollout of the new and improved beach.

And the Road?
"The permit process began in mid-2005, and we're currently awaiting any additional requests for information from agencies which include the U.S. Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, California Fish and Game, L.A. County Fire, L.A. County Public Works, and the California Department of Public Health," notes Mel Dinkel, Conservancy Chief Operating Officer. "We're in the process of identifying a firm to provide a 'biological constraints analysis' that's been requested by Los Angeles Country Regional Planning," a report that could cost as much as $35,000, he added. Total permitting costs, including required engineering documents, studies and reports, are currently estimated to total more than $107,000.

With input from Altherr-a veteran with permitting-Dinkel's best guess is "end of 2006, early 2007" before the permitting process is finalized, barring snags.

"In the meantime," Muscat commented, "community efforts like those led by Chip Upton at the Hoe Down to help raise funds, or pitching in on a planned work day at Ben Weston, are greatly appreciated."

After permitting is completed, the Conservancy will work with the Windward Beaches Working Group to call an 'all-hands community meeting' to plan for road construction.