It appears that a longstanding safety situation along state Route 67 in Ramona may finally be rectified.
In a couple weeks, county supervisors will consider purchasing an 84-acre plot just west of the highway in Ramona to build a parking lot.
It will be there that hikers intent on climbing to the top of Mount Woodson along a paved fire road, as well as to the very popular Potato Chip Rock, will be able to safely park their cars and trucks instead of being forced to park along the western shoulder of the busy highway.
“I am extremely excited about this finally coming to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 27,” said Dianne Jacob, chairwoman of the board. “It’s been a long time in coming and been a very complicated negotiation, but we’re finally here and I’m hopeful there will be support to allocate the money to purchase this property.
“This affects the entire region because people all over San Diego enjoy Potato Chip Rock and this is the easiest access point,” she said.
The parking situation has been bad for many years along that stretch of highway, but worsened over the past decade as social media sites around the country started touting Potato Chip Rock as one of the must-do hikes, not just in Southern California, but in the nation.
Many climb to the rock via the Poway side of Mount Woodson, but just as many, probably more, approach the rock from the Ramona side, partly because it is a shorter and easier hike. While there’s plenty of parking at Lake Poway, there isn’t any along the highway.
The result is a safety nightmare. Hikers and cyclists are passed by speeding cars just feet away and motorists, looking for a place to pull over and park, often come to a dead stop in the slower lane on the highway where the speed limit of 55 mph is often exceeded.
A couple Sundays ago, the line of cars along the western shoulder stretched six-tenths of a mile. Even this past Friday morning, at least 75 cars lined the shoulder.
Details about the land purchase have not been made public and can’t be legally for another two weeks. Jacob said should the acquisition be approved, the county will then start working with CalTrans and other agencies to make the parking lot a reality.
A county spokeswoman said the Department of Parks and Recreation “is in the process of negotiating the purchase of land near Mount Woodson, which will be presented to the Board of Supervisors later this month. If the Board approves the acquisition, we will begin design and conduct environmental analysis to determine what might be built on the property and return to the Board with a recommendation.”
It was September 2017 when Jacob, property owner Jerry Taylor, and a large group of county employees and other officials toured the land. Taylor, who lives across the highway, said he has seen first-hand how dangerous things have become, and had indicated months earlier he would be willing to sell the property for the right price.
During one meeting, Taylor said he would expect to make a profit off the sale beyond the $1.2 million he paid for the land in 2011.
The concept at the time was that the majority of the land would be kept as open space while a parking lot, perhaps with spaces for 175 vehicles, would be built along with a trail leading to the fire road.
Friday morning, a quick sampling of hikers showed unanimous excitement about the prospect of a parking lot.
Lilo Jaime, who lives in the area, said she has hiked up the mountain from the Ramona side virtually every single day for the past 17 ½ years.
She said when she first started climbing, very few people used the trail. “We all knew each other,” she said. “And then Potato Chip Rock became popular on social media. It’s been harrowing now that a lot more people come.”
She said she has seen “horrors” on the road. “People stopping in the lane on 67 because they want to back up into a spot. Or, if they’re coming from San Diego, they actually stop in the fast lane because they want to make a U-turn to grab a parking spot they saw on the opposite side.”
Other hikers said they loved the idea of a parking lot and each told some story about close calls they’ve witnessed.
Lori Mathios, who climbs with her friend and neighbor Jamie once a week, said “it would be a great idea to get all these cars off the road here. It will cut down on the accidents.”