Grand jury identifies safety measures to address potential Devil’s Slide hazards 

click to enlarge A new, scenic Devil’s Slide trail potentially has some unsafe aspects. - ARI BURACK/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Ari Burack/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • A new, scenic Devil’s Slide trail potentially has some unsafe aspects.

Multiple potential safety hazards along the newly opened Devil's Slide coastal trail could be addressed by prohibiting horses on the trail, increasing fencing and providing emergency phone service, a San Mateo County civil grand jury report has found.

The recently issued report details several recommendations for the county Board of Supervisors regarding certain aspects of the scenic trail that the grand jury deems unsafe. The trail, once a notoriously treacherous, landslide-prone portion of state Highway 1, was opened to the public -- including hikers, bicyclists, dog walkers and equestrians -- in March.

According to the grand jury, one possible measure the county could pursue is to prohibit use of the trail by horses, both for the safety of the animals and everyone else. The trail area is commonly covered by fog, which results in slippery conditions on the paved trail that are not suitable for horses, the report said. Furthermore the 1.3-mile Devil's Slide does not connect to any other horse trails, nor does it have parking to accommodate horse trailers.

Mark Hawthorne, the president of the San Francisco Horsemen's Association, said he agrees with the grand jury recommendation to keep horses off the site.

"I think that if you monitor the area, you will find anyway that the horse community, of its own volition, won't be using the trail," he said. "Due to the conditions in the winter on the paved road, and due to the amount of people and dogs on the trail, some horses aren't prepared for those conditions. And accidents that involve horses can be disastrous."

County Supervisor Don Horsley concurs, saying he doesn't think any equestrians will make use of the trail, especially since it's paved.

"We never really see horses there per se," he said. "I don't think horses ought to be up there. It was never really designed for horses."

Another safety issue detailed in the report is the lack of phone service. There is virtually no cell connection along the trail, and no emergency phone service has been installed because of the prohibitive cost of $80,000, according to the county. In an emergency situation, it could be difficult for someone to get help, the jury's report said.

The grand jury also encouraged the county to increase fence security along the edge of the trail in some portions, because with the current design, the guardrails -- used instead of concrete K-rails in some spots as a cost-saving measure -- are not as secure.

"The terrain directly west of the guardrail falls sharply downhill to the ocean," the report said. Adding a bigger section of fence in that area would help prevent serious falling accidents, according to the report.

But Horsley said the county does not plan to add more K-rails because they inhibit views and the natural environment.

"You'd have to deliberately step over the rails to get over them," Horsley said. "You have to rely on people's basic intelligence."

The grand jury has called on the county to devise a plan to address the various trail-safety issues by the end of this year. Horsley noted that the county is working on extending the trail by connecting Devil's Slide with trails on the north and south ends, as well as securing more land for parking.

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Emilie Mutert

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