Big Sur: Overtourism to Ghost Town

I published the following article in Voices of Monterey Bay, tonight.

One day Big Sur locals are complaining about the invasion of tourists in our formerly peaceful little village, and the next we are struggling to survive. Mother Nature has decided to put the brakes on tourism everywhere, including Big Sur.

Big Sur is no stranger to natural disaster, and we have had our share in the last few years. Just in the last four there was the Soberanes Fire that started July 22, 2016 and lasted until October, and we had  assorted Highway 1 closures that stranded us for weeks at a time. So this is not new to us. We have ridden out similar scenarios many times, and we are good at it. It is always during a disaster that Big Sur really shines and takes care of its own.

“We as a community simply can’t help but work harder and try our very best to persevere,” Kurt Mayer, owner of Big Sur Deli and Big Sur Taphouse, once said.

In Big Sur, like elsewhere, businesses scrambled to figure out how they would handle this latest natural disaster. What did it mean for staff, employees, and customers? By Wednesday, businesses were in compliance with the county order and our local Big Sur markets and stores were busy contacting locals to find out what they wanted so they could stock appropriately.

Diana Ballantyne, general manager of Fernwood Resort, Rick Aldinger, general manager of Big Sur River Inn, and Ken Harlan, owner of Lucia Lodge, are soliciting input from locals about stocking their stores to help residents avoid town trips. Fernwood is also offering a 10 percent discount to all locals — except on alcohol and tobacco. River Inn is still dispensing propane and gas, paid for at the pumps. Best to call for hours, though. Just got word from Big Sur Bakery that they are open for take-out and are exploring available options.

Mayer’s Big Sur Deli has a history of stocking the store for locals, as he did when the bridge was out and Paul’s Slide was closed. The area in between became an island. Locals should give the store a call and let them know what you want them to stock for you. Also, those businesses that carry propane, like River Inn, will have it available but with limited hours.

River Inn, Fernwood, Riverside  Campground and Gorda are all still accepting guests as of this writing. Gorda’s gas station (pay at pump only) and general store are likewise open, as is take-out from the restaurant.

As we all know given the speed of this virus, and the orders being issued, this could change tomorrow, or even by the time this is published. All are implementing deep cleaning and sanitation routines. Other businesses have temporarily closed completely. Treebones is closed for the duration of the shelter in place. Esalen has completely closed for four weeks. Deetjen’s and Henry Miller Library have completely closed temporarily as well. Just heard from Nepenthe, and they say they are also completely closed for the duration.

The State Parks have closed all their parks to overnight camping. The Monterey District of the Los Padres National Forest has also closed off all its developed campsites in compliance with Monterey County’s shelter-in-place order.

If you are a Big Sur local and have any special needs, I urge you to call one of our local businesses and see if they are able to accommodate you.

It is always during a disaster that Big Sur really shines and takes care of its own.

Another unreported side effect of this current situation is what is happening with people who have second homes outside of major cities and the impact on their tenants/caretakers. Here in Big Sur, these owners are coming to hide out in their second (or third) home. One South Coaster told me that “I can’t speak for all of Big Sur, but our landlord just told us he’s coming up with his kids for a few weeks. He asked me to do a huge grocery shopping trip for him, his nanny, and three boys and it feels hugely unfair and dangerous. We spent the last few weeks stocking up just so we could stay home during this time.”

There are probably other similar stories out there I have not yet heard about.

The South Coast of Big Sur is unusually positioned. We live like this, particularly in winter. We sometimes spend a good deal of our summer getting ready for winter. Yes, we tend to be a bit squirrelly. Some make town runs weekly, others monthly, and a few only go every six months or so.

We once used CB radios to communicate. Now it is Facebook, DM, or email and text. Tuesday night, a neighbor and I were communicating this way and we shared that we were both going to King City the next day. She was refilling her stock of gasoline and propane and picking up some food while she was at it. Her husband was away, and she only had the back-up vehicle, which had a battery problem. She was glad to know a neighbor would be around in case she had trouble. She did, and we found her being assisted by two guys in a Subaru and so we followed her home. We stopped and shared stories.

Big Sur can have a wicked sense of humor as evidenced by this gem from Diana at Fernwood: “But seriously, let me know if there is something in particular, other than the basics.  I’m thinking a case of asparagus, so the entire Big Sur valley starts smelling like asparagus pee at the same time.” She says it is arriving on Thursday.

It is the way we come together as a community that always makes me proud and honored to be a part of it. We are like small towns all over America who come to the aid of neighbors during times of crisis, and usually with a sense of humor. We may freak out momentarily, but then the shirt sleeves get rolled up and we have at it. Be safe, be healthy, be patient, but most of all … be kind.

7 thoughts on “Big Sur: Overtourism to Ghost Town

  1. Kate, the shelter in place is now statewide, thanks to the governor’s latest update…

  2. “Ghost towning” (temporarily closing all businesses) when planned and executed correctly is an effective tool against tourism and is used to pressure governments into negotiations.

  3. In 1966 (just a few years ago) there was a popular movie called “Stop The World, I Want To Get Off”.
    We’re finally there!
    You can actually see the fish swimming in the canals of Venice, Italy- due to lack of pollution from motor boats.
    The air is clear, from so little traffic.
    The freeway noise is not a constant drone.
    You can hear the birds singing.
    Enjoy this special respite, it’s not going to last.

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