National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for Cabrillo National Monument

Chapter 4 - Key Issues and Challenges for Consideration in Management Planning

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

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 (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. The establishment of an interpretation center or facility focusing on intertidal and ocean themes and located near the tidepools is included in the park's Long Range Interpretive Plan (National Park Service et al. 2009) and remains a key goal for Cabrillo. 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. Due to NPS budget constraints, funds are not available that would provide enforcement and protection measures of the intertidal and coastal ocean resources.

Several other areas of Cabrillo receive varying levels of visitation (e.g. the Lighthouse, the Military History Exhibit, the Visitor Center) but park staff does not currently possess accurate estimates of how many people visit these features, or when. Park staff recognizes that measuring visitation in different areas and at different times (e.g. weekdays versus weekends) would help us deploy resources more efficiently (particularly staff and interpretive elements) and improve visitor experiences in general.

Non-native species, in particular weedy plants, remain a constant threat to the animals and plants of the Coastal Sage Scrub. The park plans to be "Weed Free" by 2016. However, it will take a lot of effort on many fronts to get there. The current Vegetation Management Plan (Cabrillo National Monument 1992) was last updated in 1992 and is no longer in line with NPS policies (for example, it tasks park staff with maintaining Myoporum laetum and other exotic landscaping plants known to be detrimental to native park species). An updated plan is a high priority.

Many of the natural and cultural resources outside of Cabrillo on the Point Loma peninsula are in relatively good shape. Cabrillo National Monument is continuously looking for ways to partner with the other four agencies on the Point Loma peninsula (U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the City of San Diego) to improve the management of both impacted and unimpacted natural and cultural resources. The park is always looking for ways to improve visitor experiences in conjunction with the history and unique relationships with our neighbors. For example, the park would like to take a more active role in interpreting the history of the Lighthouse Service and the Pelican Point Lighthouse, which replaced the Point Loma Lighthouse in 1891 and is currently operated by the U.S. Coast Guard on property adjacent to Cabrillo. The park also needs to establish a working group with our neighbors and other agencies to discuss the future of the Fort Rosecrans and remaining historic structures.

Overshadowing all our concerns for the natural resources are the potential consequences of rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Continued increases in air and ocean temperatures along with predicted changes in precipitation, relative humidity, storm frequency and storm intensity will bring about great changes in the ecological communities we know and understand today (Smith et al. 2004, Christensen 2007, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007, Cayan et al. 2008). Mediterranean-type ecosystems (like southern California) are among those especially likely to be affected by a reduction in rainfall (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007). Ocean acidification is also expected to affect shell bearing and calcifying organisms of the rocky intertidal and kelp forest ecosystems (Wootton et al. 2008, Doney et al. 2009). However, with the likely extirpation of some species and the new introductions of others, the full ramifications of those changes (and how to plan for them) remain unpredictable with the current state of the science (Harley et al. 2006, Hoegh-Guldberg and Bruno 2010).

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 them 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. 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. The Port of San Diego has received a Parks in Transit Grant which will allow a sustainable transportation service from the San Diego Convention Center to the park. At the same time, the park is using the internet and distance learning programs to inform students about 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. In order to engage the public during these significant events, Cabrillo National Monument intends to expand the educational and interpretative themes of Sixteenth Century Exploration, the Lighthouse Period, and WWI and WWII.

Cabrillo National Monument and Channel Islands National Park are currently working on a Sister-Park Agreement with Guadalupe Island Reserve off the coast of Baja, Mexico. Cabrillo is also a border park with Mexico, and we continue to support the Community of Ensenada in interpreting Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's Landing at San Mateo (Ensenada).

Park staff plans to take advantage of local training opportunities whenever possible. Park managers are also searching for ways to improve staff morale. Increased travel restrictions leave fewer opportunities for professional enrichment, edification, and collaboration with other NPS staff, which ultimately affects park operations. The current economic crisis, annual budget uncertainty, and changes in human resources hiring practices and requirements are eroding staff morale. Costs of living in San Diego are high and increasing, but salaries have been frozen and park staff does not have access to many affordable services available at many other parks, such as child care or park housing.

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.

Current office space is inadequate for staff needs. At times, crowded offices inhibit productive office work. In addition, current office space (and some visitor infrastructure as well) is not compliant with the American Disabilities Act and was clearly designed for an all-male staff.

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Last Updated: March 13, 2014 Contact Webmaster