Loch Lomond Gets A Makeover

May 29, 2013—Imagine a redwood-ringed lake in Santa Cruz County with a zipline, kayaks and canoes for rent, yurts for camping, backpacking sites, an amphitheater and a wedding facility. We're halfway there because we have Loch Lomond Recreation Area, a 175-acre reservoir located in the Santa Cruz Mountains just outside Lompico and a mile from Ben Lomond as the crow flies. But few people know about it, and those who do wish it had more amenities—something besides picnicking, fishing, hiking and paddleboat rental.

Well, it's about to get some. The City of Santa Cruz Water Department, which built the reservoir in 1963 to store water for the city slickers, is looking at ways to rejuvenate Loch Lomond after a dramatic decline in visitors (and revenue).

The outlines of the problem are clear. Since 2001, the total number of Loch Lomondgoers has dropped nearly 50%, from an average annual turnout of roughly 45,000 to only 24,000 in 2009. That's the year the reservoir was hit by the double whammy of boating restrictions and cessation of fish stocking by California Fish & Game. The boating restrictions—set in place by Santa Cruz City Council due to concern over invasive quagga and zebra mussels, which can wreck water infrastructure—meant people could no longer haul their boats up to Loch Lomond and put in for a nice day. Instead they'd need to quarantine their boats and kayaks at Loch Lomond and store them there at a cost of $200 per year. Needless to say, that reduced boating activity on Loch Lomond.

As for the fish, Fish & Game stopped stocking fish out of concern for native species like red-legged frogs. The agency resumed stocking in 2012, this time with sterile trout, which can't take over a lake.

A new study commissioned by the Water Department looks at the various possibilities for Loch Lomond, and it's come up with an incredible list of options broken down into three approaches that might be characterized as Having It All, Picking and Choosing, and Doing Nothing (our terms, not theirs).

Included in the Having It All approach: ziplines, outdoor wedding facilities, kayak and canoe rental, backpacking sites, fire road access for mountain biking and equestrians, summer day camps, a ropes course, a water play area... the list goes on. It's amazing. It costs a lot of money. And frankly, it returns a lot of money and turns Loch Lomond into a major regional draw, if you ask us.

The Picking and Choosing approach includes kayak and canoe rentals, outdoor wedding facilities, summer day camps, some more hiking trails on the east side of the lake, kids' play areas, lakeside boat storage. It's a bit more careful with the spending but still boosts the amenities.

Doing Nothing just basically maintains the reservoir as is but reduces hours of operation.