Creating Safe, Low-Impact Access to the Waves


Safe Trestles is a competition that seeks to create a new design for a safe path surfers can use to cross wetlands and traintracks and get to the beach in California’s San Onofre state park. The competition also asked designers to create a plan for restoring and preserving the wetlands that have been damaged by the surfers’ makeshift pathways. The two-stage design competition yielded a winner: The Wave by the Co-Lab design office based in Los Angeles. 

The competition organizers, which include Architecture for Humanity, the Surfrider Foundation, and the San Onofre Foundation, argue that the coastal region in San Onofre state park is one of the most vital coastal wetland ecosystems in Southern California and worthy of restoration and preservation. The state beach is home to eleven federally endangered or threatened animal species. In addition, the park’s delicate local habitat is under siege from two million annual visitors. Surfers are having a particularly negative impact, crossing through the fragile wetlands an estimated 200,000 each year. Local landowners and leaseholders have threatened to restrict access unless safer, less damaging paths are put in.

According to Co-Lab, The Wave, their winning proposal, seeks to “keep it wild, make it safe, and safeguard the area for future users. The Wave’s primary goals are to increase the safety of the path to Trestles and protect its fragile beach ecology. With many close calls as people illegally cross the railroad tracks to get to this renowned park and surf break, the proposal provides a safe rail crossing so visitors may reach their destination without danger.”

In addition, the design aims to protect and restore the wetlands. “The Wave provides a single path over the wetland, bringing visitors close to this unique ecology while protecting it from rogue trails, and providing visitors with views and information about the landscape they are traversing. The Wave’s subtle re-graded path, integrated signage and beautiful form provides a unique design solution for the unique landscape at Trestles.” Learn more about the winning design idea.

Other finalists that received honorable mentions include:

Safe Trestles Transect (Lager Raabe Skafte Landscape Architects, Inc): “The proposed walk to Trestles Beach combines portions of the existing trail with a boardwalk that is subtly lifted above the existing site to honor the landscape below.”

Easy*Safe*Dry (kola+kle): “The new access should bring the visitor the shortest way from the parking lot to the beach or the other way around. That implies a very plain and straight line.”

Unveiling the Natural (ERGO4): “We propose a path that hardly touches the soil, letting space for vegetation grow underneath and connect both sides of the way. It’s a natural itinerary, made for pedestrian and bikes.”

The Long Trail (Ken Smith Landscape Architect: WORKSHOP WEST): “Our approach is straight forward incorporating ADA access and providing a safe at-grade crossing. The path follows the topography by tracing desire lines. Existing use patterns are utilized for a minimal footprint of path infrastructure. This strategy encourages ecological restoration, reduces runoff, improves water quality, and provides additional habitat.”

Safe Trestles was sponsored by Nike.

Learn more about the winner’s proposal along with the four finalists.

Also, see another design competition available via Architecture for Humanity’s Open Architecture Network: Play for all, a design competition for innovative playgrounds.

Image credit: The Wave / Co-Lab Design Office / Safe Trestles Design Competition

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