The rickety old stairs at Point Dume are finally ready to be torn out and constructed anew. After years in disrepair, the metal staircase that leads from the Point Dume headlands to Big Dume Beach has construction crews at the ready. They’ll be ripping out the decades-old metal stairway that’s not only too steep for many visitors but downright dangerous with missing steps rusted away by salt water and sea air.
The much-needed reconstruction has been a half-decade in the making and can’t come soon enough for those who have been taking a risk using the stairs or the equally treacherous hillside abutting them.
That has been the case this past year, since California State Parks tried blocking the old stairs to keep beachgoers from using them. That has not exactly worked.
“I’ve used those stairs all my life,” Brian Merrick, born and raised in Malibu, said. “State Parks did a poor job blocking them off. They’re still used to this day. They’re very dangerous. It’s easily accessible. They put a couple of wires across the entry that people just walk around. There’s no real restriction. The actual trail has a fence. You just take one step to the side and you’re back on the stairs.”
California State Parks Angeles District Supervisor Craig Sap agreed the project is long overdue. It was funded more than five years ago, but was delayed by problems. Initially, the stairs were to be rebuilt in the same location, but current building standards deemed them too steep. The project was then redesigned a few yards away to an area that allows for a more gradual descent. Then a long bidding process and appeals by neighbors who were opposed to the possibility of more crowds overrunning the small parking area and encroaching onto side streets delayed the construction again. Years of lag time saw the cost of construction materials increase, driving the total cost to $3.3 million. That price tag includes revegetation and rerouting of some trails. Crews have been on site since June 18 and, if the weather holds, new stairs could be completed by December.
“We closed the stairs a year ago. They became so unusable,” Sap explained. “The stairs are about to be removed and the area around them restored.”
Merrick said he knows at least one person who has been hurt climbing the decaying staircase, which appears to date back some 50 years when California Fish and Game—now called the California Department of Fish and Wildlife—had jurisdiction over the property.
“It’s a project longtime coming,” Merrick added. “I wish that they would do more work to the infrastructure, enforcement and other issues that plague that area. It’s a jewel of the coast and they don’t take care of it. It’s in poor disrepair. There’s no stopping the public when they want to go somewhere.”
“Part of the project is a reroute of the trails,” Sap described. “That whole area was disturbed by non-native plants—wild radish, wild mustard and other invasive plants. Once the project is done with revegetation, it will be a much healthier ecosystem.”
The new staircase will not provide access to those with disabilities, Sap added, but the work at the top of the bluff will allow wheelchair access with a view of the coast.
“We wanted to be inclusive in having people with disabilities be able to access and enjoy the view from up there down to Big Dume Beach,” Sap said. “We would have loved to have that [wheelchair accessibility to the beach] but it’s just not feasible.” Nearby Westward Beach has wheelchair access.
“These stairs will last a lot longer than the others,” according to Sap, and they will not be gated. “We don’t close beach access.”