Leave No Trace program to educate public on responsible use of Laguna Beach outdoor space

Mountain bikers and hikers climb a well-known trail at Top of the World in Laguna Beach on a recent afternoon.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Laguna Beach plans to commence with an educational campaign to encourage responsible use of its public outdoor space.

Visit Laguna Beach, a tourism arm for the city, has entered into an agreement with Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics with the goal of gaining the cooperation of the public to take care of public lands.

The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday night threw its unanimous support behind the plan, one that will call on residents, visitors and local partners to do their part to minimize impacts that could result in environmental degradation.

“Some big-bucket categories for our success would be visitor awareness and behavior change,” Ashley Johnson, the president and chief executive of Visit Laguna Beach, said. “The second would be resident awareness and behavior change. We would also be looking to local partners to play an essential role for interfacing with visitors and travelers, whether that’s the hotel concierge, marine safety, whoever that may be.

“We’re looking at a reduction in recreation impacts to natural resources, and then Visit Laguna Beach and the city of Laguna Beach’s position as being an industry leader in promoting destination stewardship.”

Visitors arrive to Rockpile Beach in Laguna on Wednesday, April 21.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The partnership between Visit Laguna Beach and Leave No Trace will last through December 2022. City staff will promote the educational program via social media and other lines of communication. Beyond staff time involved in that work, there is no financial obligation to the city at this point.

Restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic led to an increase in the number of people making their way to beaches and hiking trails for exercise outdoors.

Although she voted in favor of the city backing the public education program, Councilwoman Toni Iseman stressed that a crowdedness in town has become a concern for residents, and she warned against the program having unintended consequences.

“I’m on the Laguna Coast Wilderness board, and the trails are crowded, they’re becoming dangerous, the bikes are disrespecting the hikers [and] they’re creating new trails,” Iseman said. “It’s more than doubled, and part of it is COVID, as people had to get out of the house and start exercising.

“I just wonder if you can create a sliver of a campaign that basically talks about, ‘Don’t come here, but if you do come here, this is how you behave,’ because we cannot be 24 Hour Fitness for everybody in Orange County or Southern California.”

The Laguna Beach City Council approved a $2-million neighborhood and environmental protection plan aimed at mitigating the impact of visitors on the community at its meeting on March 9.

Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said “the volume is the volume” when it comes to people utilizing the city’s outdoor space, indicating that he believes the Leave No Trace program would be a productive step in mitigating the impact.

“They’re just coming, so if we can get a program that educates the public generally — and that’s going to take things like signage and people out there with consistent messaging — I think that’s a good thing,” Whalen said. “But the notion that we’re going to have some kind of plan that manages people, in a way, to not come to Laguna Beach or to reduce their trips, that’s just, in my mind, a fallacy.”

Kurt Bjorkman, the general manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach and a board member of Visit Laguna, emphasized the stewardship initiative as a means of taking an active interest in the welfare of the town.

“We love this town,” Bjorkman said. “We have to treat it well. We are stewards of this city, and if we don’t treat it well, it’s like an animal eating its own tail, it’s not going to last very long. We need to take care of ourselves and make sure that we’re ahead of it.”

A group of mountain bikers take a break at the main trail at Top of the World in Laguna Beach on Wednesday, April 21.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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