New RV Park Rising on California Coast
Dump trucks and earthmovers are scraping across 35 acres of canyon and beach, transforming the funky little enclave that was El Morro Village north of Laguna Beach, Calif., into Southern California's first coastal campground in two decades.
State parks officials and environmentalists trumpet the $12-million construction project, which began last month, as a victory for public access and the preservation of pristine Orange County coastline, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"Tens of thousands of added Californians and people from all across the nation can now enjoy this spot of Southern California paradise," said state parks spokesman Roy Stearns. "It opens up a whole new coastal ocean world."
The scenic spot was at the heart of an impassioned turf battle between mobile home residents and state parks officials. The state bought the land from the Irvine Co. in 1979 for $32.5 million; tenants rented the property from the state for 25 years, then waged a legal and political battle to extend their lease. Residents made the state several offers – including paying higher rents and expanding public access – in exchange for staying put, all of which were ultimately rejected.
Plans for the new El Moro Campground – spelled with one "r" –include 60 campsites, 200 day-use parking spaces, hiking trails, picnic areas, a restored Moro Creek and an amphitheater.
Since the neighborhood was emptied, contractors have hauled away more than 200 vacant mobile homes, cleaned up hazardous materials and closed down the antiquated sewage system.
Workers are now ripping out nonnative plants, removing concrete foundations, demolishing outbuildings and taking out old power lines and other infrastructure, said Ken Kramer, Orange Coast District superintendent for California State Parks.
"Obviously, our goal is to return this to a pristine natural state and let Mother Nature flourish," he said.
Kramer estimates construction, funded with public bond money, will take 18 months to two years and projects the campground will open by summer 2010.
The park's prime cliff-top campsites overlooking the waves should make El Moro one of the most popular spots in California, with an estimated 250,000 visitors a year and reservations predicted to be booked solid. That should bring in about $1 million each year to the state, Kramer said.
With California's population swelling and a lack of low-cost spots to camp on the coast, "there is just no room anymore for these little private enclaves of people," said Elisabeth Brown, president of the nonprofit Laguna Greenbelt. "That was something from the past, and it couldn't continue — there's this huge public pressure to get to the coast and be able to camp on the coast and enjoy it."