National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Cabrillo National Monument

Executive Summary

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Old Point Loma Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument

The mission of the National Park Service is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of national parks for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. NPS Management Policies (2006) state that "The Service will also strive to ensure that park resources and values are passed on to future generations in a condition that is as good as, or better than, the conditions that exist today."

As part of the stewardship of national parks for the American people, the NPS has begun to develop State of the Park reports to assess the overall status and trends of each park's resources. The NPS will use this information to improve park priority setting and to synthesize and communicate complex park condition information to the public in a clear and simple way.

The purpose of this State of the Park report for Cabrillo National Monument is to:

  1. Provide to visitors and the American public a snapshot of the status and trend in the condition of a park's priority resources and values;
  2. Summarize and communicate complex scientific, scholarly, and park operations factual information and expert opinion using non-technical language and a visual format;
  3. Highlight park stewardship activities and accomplishments to maintain or improve the State of the Park;
  4. Identify key issues and challenges facing the park to help inform park management planning.

Click on the links below to see more information.

Cabrillo National Monument commemorates Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's voyage of exploration and its significance. The monument protects, preserves, and manages the cultural and natural resources and associated values in a manner that leaves them unimpaired while providing a high quality educational and recreational experience for all visitors. The purposes of Cabrillo National Monument are:

  1. To commemorate the 1542 voyage of exploration and accomplishments of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and communicate this story and its significance to visitors and local residents.
  2. To preserve, restore, protect, interpret and enhance the significant cultural and natural resources within and adjacent to the park.
  3. To provide visitors the opportunity to enjoy one of the great harbor views of the world and to experience and understand the relationship humans have with their land and sea environment.

Cabrillo National Monument, located at the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula within the Point Loma Ecological Conservation Area, is an effective island of rare habitats that is isolated from other natural lands by the ocean, San Diego Bay, and urbanization. The significance of the park is enhanced by the presence of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, one of the first eight lighthouses built along the west coast by the U.S. government in the 1850s. There are also 19 historical structures of the U.S. Army's coastal defense system at Fort Rosecrans, which protected the aircraft industry and naval port of San Diego during world War II; one of the best land-based sites from which to watch the annual migration of Pacific gray whales; one of the few protected and accessible intertidal communities on the Southern California mainland; and a representative example of the rapidly disappearing, and increasingly important, coastal sage scrub ecosystem.

The park further provides visitors from around the world with the opportunity to enjoy a world-class view of the interplay between natural and cultural resources. Military operations, shipping, the city and harbor of San Diego, coastal landforms, wildlife, Mexico and the Pacific Ocean all illustrate the relationship humans have with their environment.

The list below provides selected examples of stewardship activities and accomplishments by park staff and partners to maintain or improve the condition of priority park resources and values for this and future generations. See Chapter 3 for additional examples.

Natural Resources

  • Tidepool Protection, Education and Restoration Program (TPERP) is a very successful collaboration between park staff and the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program to protect the fragile intertidal system and to provide school children and other park visitors with high-quality, park-based learning experience. Participants are involved in monitoring of the tidepools and shorebirds, as well as protecting park resources and educating visitors.
  • The rocky intertidal monitoring program is 21 years old and has produced valuable long-term scientific data that most research institutions are unable to collect.
  • The removal of invasive and non-native plants over the past two decades has restored several acres of coastal sage scrub. Very few large patches of weeds remain.
  • The Cabrillo Oil Spill Response Plan was added to the San Diego Area Contingency Plan (ACP) in 2011. The ACP plan is followed by response agencies and personnel in the event of an oil spill.

Cultural Resources

  • The Museum Storage Building—a state-of-the-art facility—was built to protect historical artifacts.
  • The park receives regular cyclic funding for repairs of coastal defense structures.
  • Park staff submitted funding requests for an administrative history, archeological assessments, and other cultural landscape-related projects.

Visitor Experience

  • The park has partnered with the Maritime Museum of San Diego as they build a replica of the San Salvador, Cabrillo's flagship, at Spanish Landing. Park education staff and the Maritime Museum of San Diego staff are developing curriculum-based programs to be presented to third through fifth graders. Park staff and volunteers wearing clothing representative of the 1540s provide interpretation of the history of Cabrillo's voyage of discovery to visitors at the construction site. A web cam provides real-time still images of the progress of the building of the San Salvador to our visitor center.
  • The Sea-to-Shining Sea Program allows virtual field trips to the rocky intertidal habitat and lighthouse and is viewed in classrooms throughout California and the world. Students can have real-time interaction with park rangers that they can see and ask questions about the tide-pools and lighthouse.
  • The Kelp Forest and Whale Watch Overlook has been remodeled with new signs and displays. Visitors can relax on new benches under canopies that look like sails.
  • The Parks and Open Spaces Day annual event has participation from county, state, local organizations throughout southern California; each year, this event has more participants and gains in popularity.
  • Our education program provides curriculum-based school programs on five topics. Grades 2 through 5 are taught about the "Life in the Coastal Sage Scrub," "Kumeyaay Supermarket," "Rocky Intertidal," "Lighthouse," and our most popular, "Cabrillo and the Age of Exploration."

Park Infrastructure

  • Cabrillo has become a trash-free park to reduce staff costs associated with removing visitor trash and litter from the park, and to reduce the park's impact on landfill.
  • Restoration of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse was completed with repairs made to the roof, new weather sealing, and repainted railings.
  • Regular preventive maintenance and cyclic funding requests are utilized to maintain the assets of the park in good condition.
  • Upgrades to electrical panels, HVAC systems, and wastewater systems have improved the safety, efficiency, and longevity of those systems.
  • Construction of the Assistant Keeper's Quarters adjacent to the lighthouse, with a historic Fresnel lens on display allows visitors to view it up-close and learn about its operation.
  • Slurry seal applied to the park's roads and parking lots in FY11 has improved the condition of those assets.
  • To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to save energy, the park has two rooftop solar arrays, and replaced several gasoline-powered vehicles with electric vehicles.
  • A vault toilet was recently installed at the Tidepool Parking Lot, providing a sanitary, accessible, and cost-effective improvement for the thousands of visitors that visit Cabrillo's tidepools.

Natural and Cultural Resources

The rocky intertidal habitat at Cabrillo represents a nexus of several management planning issues. It is one of the most popular features of the park, receiving more than 150,000 visitors per year (Phillips et al. 2013). Twenty years of long-term monitoring has identified many changes during the past two decades (Engle and Davis 2000, Becker 2006, Pister et al. in prep). Some of the changes are likely due to visitor impacts, and others are likely due to factors operating outside the park's immediate control. Cabrillo has taken several successful steps to limit the impacts due to visitors, most notably the Tidepool Protection, Education and Restoration Program (TPERP). However, intertidal life is not adapted to withstand high levels of visitation and determining an appropriate number of visitors to the habitat without impairing it is a key planning issue for the park. The long-term monitoring program has identified several ecological changes requiring further research to understand and inform management actions. Investigating these research questions is currently beyond the park's capabilities. In January of 2012, the State of California established the Cabrillo State Marine Reserve, a no-take marine protected area, around the park. Enforcement on the water, however, is lacking and illegal commercial lobster fishing is currently a problem.

Non-native species, in particular weedy plants, remain a constant threat to the animals and plants of the Coastal Sage Scrub. The park has a goal to be "weed free" by 2016. The current Vegetation Management Plan (Cabrillo National Monument, 1992) was last updated in 1992 and is no longer consistent with NPS policies (for example it encourages maintaining non-native species). The park has begun drafting a new updated plan that conforms to NPS policies.

Overshadowing all our concerns for the natural resources are the potential consequences of rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Increasing temperature, decreasing rainfall, and decreasing pH of seawater will impact most, if not all, species of the coastal sage scrub and rocky intertidal ecosystems at Cabrillo (Harley et al. 2006, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007, Wootton et al. 2008, Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno 2010). However, we do not understand what the additive effects will be of climate change and other disturbances, such as urban development and invasive species.

The 19 coastal defense structures in the park represent a fascinating glimpse into the country's mentality and an accelerating arms race between land, sea, and air armament during WWI and WWII, and yet most of the structures are closed to the public. Although some structures are very difficult to access, the park is beginning to plan how to open some of them to the public.

Visitor Services

The National Park Service as an agency is trying to improve connections with demographic groups that visit national parks infrequently (NPS Call to Action). Latin American and urban citizens are two of these groups living in abundance within easy driving distance of Cabrillo National Monument. The park plans to take advantage of its location within metropolitan San Diego to increase engagement with these audiences in particular.

Public transportation to the park has decreased over the last several years. In addition, one of the greatest challenges schools face is transporting students on field trips. Cabrillo is planning on enhancing both public and student transportation to the park through partnerships. At the same time, the park is using the internet and distance learning programs to expose students to the park's resources within their own classrooms.

The Cabrillo National Monument centennial is in 2013, and the National Park Service centennial is in 2016. Celebrations that enhance the interpretive themes of Sixteenth Century Spanish Exploration, the Lighthouse Period, and WWI and WWII to further engage the public are currently being planned.

Park Infrastructure

The Bayside Trail is a historic road that connects visitors to healthy coastal sage scrub, a superb eastern view of San Diego harbor, and potentially to coastal defense structures in the future, but the trail has been undercut by landslides. Current repair estimates are approximately $1 million. A planning strategy for the use of Recreation Fee 80% funds for FY13 and FY14 will address this issue and allow repair of the trail. The challenges in dealing with maintaining roads and trails are being met with a combination of regular cyclic funding, five year planning strategies, and the use of volunteers so that visitors can experience the full breadth of resources at Cabrillo.

Cabrillo currently obtains about one quarter of its energy needs from solar panels and uses seven electrical vehicles within the park. Our greatest source of carbon emissions, however, is from vehicle use and transportation. Park staff would like to further reduce the use of fossil fuels in the management of the park. However, maintenance costs to Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) are equal to or greater than the cost of using gasoline vehicles. The park will continue its commitment to the use of electric vehicles, and seek funding to further enhance it electric fleet

Rehabilitation of the Tidepool Parking Lot remains a challenge to park management. Reducing the grade of the lot, adding a bus turnaround, sidewalks, and trail improvements are all part of the approved rehabilitation plan. Portions of the plan have been implemented, including a vault toilet and new interpretive kiosk. Estimates for the remaining work are over $1 million dollars. A planning strategy to use limited Recreation Fee 80% funds is being developed for this project.

Summary Table

The Status and Trend symbols used in the summary table below and throughout this report are summarized in the following key. The background color represents the current condition status, the direction of the arrow summarizes the trend in condition, and the thickness of the outside line represents the degree of confidence in the assessment. In some cases, the arrow is omitted because data are not sufficient for calculating a trend (e.g., data from a one-time inventory or insufficient sample size).

Condition Status Trend in Condition Confidence in
Assessment
Condition of resource warrants significant concern Warrants Significant Concern Condition is improving Condition is Improving High confidence in the assessment High
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern Warrants Moderate Concern Condition is unchanging Condition is Unchanging Medium confidence in the assessment Medium
Resource is in good condition Resource is in Good Condition Condition is deteriorating Condition is Deteriorating Low confidence in the assessment Low

Examples of how the symbols should be interpreted:

Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment.
Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment. Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; low confidence in the assessment.
Priority Resource or Value Condition Status/Trend Rationale
Natural Resources
Rocky Intertidal Communities Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. More than 100,000 people visit the rocky intertidal at Cabrillo annually. Black abalone and ochre seastars remain extirpated from the park. Mussels crashed in early 1990s and have not returned. The size of giant owl limpets has shown a slow, steady and significant decline for unknown reasons. Kelp and surf grass, along with some other important organisms, remain healthy. Learn more »
Coastal Sage Scrub Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The Mediterranean-type ecosystem is the rarest in the world. Native plant populations have been increasing but are relatively small and isolated from other populations by urbanization. Some are very rare, and threats from invasive species remain. Learn more »
Reptiles and Amphibians Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Five species of lizards, six species of snakes, and the Pacific Slender Salamander occur in the park. Two species of lizards and five species of snakes that were once documented by scientific studies are no longer found here. Learn more »
Birds Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The park is an important stopover location for birds migrating along the Pacific coast during the spring and fall. Thirty-three (33) species of birds breed in the park, and 103 species on the park's certified species list in 2011 are abundant or common. Learn more »
Terrestrial Mammals Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Twenty-six (26) species of terrestrial mammals that are associated with the coastal sage scrub ecosystem occur in the park. Foxes and deer are no longer found here. The frequency of coyote sightings has been increasing. Ten species of bats have been documented by recent inventories. Learn more »
Invasive Plants and Animals Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Sixty-seven (67) invasive plant species have been documented in the park, and 10 of these are common. Argentine ants have recently been found in the park and seem to be increasing. Learn more »
Invertebrates Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; low confidence in the assessment. Insects, spiders, and other invertebrates are an important component of the sage scrub ecosystem but have not been well studied. Sixty-seven (67) species of spiders have been discovered in the park. Learn more »
Marine Water Quality Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Extensive water quality monitoring of an adjacent waste water treatment plant indicates that effluent does not reach Cabrillo. Several potential sources of pollution exist nearby in heavily urbanized San Diego Bay. Water quality from the bay seems acceptable, but not all pollutants are well understood.
Learn more »
Cultural Resources
Old Point Loma Lighthouse Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse and associated cistern are identified as contributing features to the monument. The Historical integrity is maintained and the level of documentation and research of the lighthouse are good. The lighthouse is in good condition based on its Facility Condition Index of 0.010. Learn more »
Coastal Defense Structures Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Cabrillo NM has an excellent collection of 19 significant historical coastal defense structures (1918–1942) that were part of a coastal defensive weapons system of the World War I and World War II eras, and retain most aspects of their integrity from those eras. They have an overall Facility Condition Index of Good. These sites have special meaning to many World War II veterans, historians, military history enthusiasts, and military personnel who visit the park. The interpretive theme is served by the human element involved, and the physical demonstration of how offensive versus defensive technology so rapidly render each other obsolete. Learn more »
Other Historic Structures Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Cabrillo NM has 18 other historic structures that are included on the List of Classified Structures. These comprise a wide range of facilities including a 1935 stone comfort station restroom, 1855 brick cistern, a bronze plaque commemorating the first director of the National Park Service, and the 1935 CCC stone wall bordering the road around the lighthouse. The Mission 66 visitor center complex (consisting of 13 components) has been determined eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Learn more »
Cultural Anthropology Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; medium confidence in the assessment. Limited research on anthropological themes associated with the monument has been conducted with the majority of work concentrating on consultation with Tribes and Latino groups. The park is operating without an ethnohistory identifying significant anthropological themes that could bolster other interpretive and resources efforts. Learn more »
Archeological Resources Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Ten identified and documented archaeology sites occur within the monument (eight pre-contact and two historic sites). Three of the pre-contact sites were investigated and determined to lack integrity due to erosion and road construction. The threat of erosion continues for all other identified sites. Approximately 20% of monument lands has been intensively surveyed, but little subsurface testing has been conducted. Condition assessments in 2008 found that the sites are at risk for natural disturbances. The monument has an archaeological overview document completed (Kelly and May 2001) but does not have a monitoring or treatment plan for known sites or current proposals to conduct further inventory. Learn more »
Cultural Landscapes Condition of resource warrants significant concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; high confidence in the assessment. A detailed cultural landscape inventory has been completed for the Mission 66 theme, but four other identified inventories are needed. Learn more »
History Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; trend in condition is unknown or not applicable; high confidence in the assessment. The Monument does not have a current Administrative History or Historic Resources Study completed. Historic research is driven largely by the needs of interpretive programs. Baseline documentation is excellent for some themes (e.g. the Lighthouse) but completely lacking for others.
Learn more »
Museum Collections Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The museum facility meets Department of the Interior standards outlined in the NPS Museum Handbook but is located in an area with time restrictions for work. The monument does not have a professional curator on staff or a curator of record in the network to process, curate, and maintain the assemblages and archives. The monument is operating without a current Museum Management Plan, and current data is inadequate for determining the percent of objects catalogued and the quality of the data records. Learn more »
Visitor Experience
Number of Visitors Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. The total of 813,351 visitors to the park in 2011 was greater than the five-year average of 756,104 visitors for 2006–2010. Learn more »
Visitor Satisfaction Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; low confidence in the assessment. The five-year average for visitor satisfaction was 96.4% for FY08–FY12. However, only about 100 (all in the month of August) out of the more than 750,000 visitors to Cabrillo NM each year are sampled in this standardized survey. Learn more »
Ranger Programs - Talks, Tours, and Education Programs Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Park staff and partners support numerous interpretive presentations and exhibits, the Sea-to-Shining-Sea program for schools, living history programs, and printed and electronic media. Learn more »
Interpretive Media - Brochures, Exhibits, Signs, and Website Condition of resource warrants moderate concern; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. The Cabrillo Journal, the park's newspaper, is published twice a year and distribution is 10,000 copies per issue. Some information in the park brochure is no longer accurate, and the map in the brochure and on the park website lack important details. Upgrades to exhibit cases in the visitor center were made in 2011. Coastal defense structures are not open to the public. Learn more »
Civic Engagement Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Six annual special events (e.g. Whale Watch Weekend and Intertidal Life Festival, Founders Day) are a success with increasing participation from exhibitors and visitors. Many of the park's busiest days coincide with these special events. Learn more »
Accessibility and Safety Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; medium confidence in the assessment. A number of improvements have been made to increase accessibility for Americans with disabilities, such as assisted listening and closed captioning in the park auditorium, tactile displays at the lighthouse and Kelp Forest and Whale Overlook displays, and availability of the park brochure in Braille. Safety training for park staff has been a priority, and number of safety incidents or accidents is very low. Learn more »
Partnerships Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; medium confidence in the assessment. Strong volunteer participation and low turnover. The park has strong partnerships with the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation, the Maritime Museum, and the military. Learn more »
Park Infrastructure
Overall Facility Condition Index Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. The 63 assets at CABR have an overall FCI of 0.061, which is Good based on industry and NPS standards. The FCI is the cost of repairing an asset divided by the cost of replacing it, and is used to measure the condition of buildings, roads, trails, water systems, and other park infrastructure assets. Learn more »
Energy Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. Energy consumption (BTUs per gross square footage of buildings) at the park in 2012 was 2.8% lower than the average for the previous four years. Learn more »
Water Consumption Resource is in good condition; condition is improving; high confidence in the assessment. Water consumption at the park in 2012 was 32.7% lower than the four-year average for 2008–2011. Learn more »
Park Carbon Footprint Resource is in good condition; condition is unchanging; high confidence in the assessment. The largest greenhouse gases emission sector for Cabrillo National Monument is transportation, totaling 194 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The park has six electric vehicles in use within the monument. Learn more »

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Last Updated: November 08, 2013 Contact Webmaster