It may look bright, shiny, new and ready to be used, but the new staircase at the Point Dume Natural Preserve is not open to the public just yet. Initial looks may be deceiving because although you might glimpse people climbing the stairs to access the beach they are either vandals who ripped down closure signs and barricade fencing or folks unwittingly using the stairs after the signs and closures were removed. It’s a big problem for the State Parks Department, which has been overseeing the $3.3 million project. Officials say the staircase has not yet been given the “blessing to open” by state fire marshals due to a final punch list of items still waiting for completion.
California State Parks Angelus District Maintenance Chief Jerry West did say, “The end is in sight,” although he could not give a final completion date and did not care to speculate due to the COVID-19 surge this week that has added to the delay. The holdup is a combination of ongoing COVID-19 obstacles that have limited the supply chain of material and impacted contracted labor. State Parks was initially shooting for an opening date in 2020, but delays across the board in construction projects hit the staircase as well.
The 240-foot long new staircase will replace the old rickety steel 1970s-era staircase that was previously upcoast linking the Point Dume headlands to the beach below. The structure was so badly deteriorated, the Trip Advisor website dubbed it the “death stairs.” Entire steps were either missing, eroded by salt water and sea air or filled with sizeable holes on their landings. Climbing the stairs was precarious to say the least. California State Parks that oversees the property started looking into fixing the stairs back in 2015.
Finally, construction began in 2020 as soon as the pandemic upended business as usual. Two years later, as the staircase was near completion and looks nearly ready to use, West says vandals remove plywood fencing, signs and other barriers to keep them away.
“People just remove it at the preserve. That’s their mindset and it’s unfortunate for the people who manage it,” West said of the stairs. “We’ve closed them many times, but unfortunately people don’t adhere to the signs. They make a mess and vandalize the signs.”
He also said use of the staircase could be dangerous since it is not yet finished “to spec.” West also said graffiti is a constant problem at the nature preserve, as are off-leash dogs that can disrupt the delicate ecosystem at the picturesque headlands.
Since the old staircase was finally removed in 2021, people have used the vacant void where they once stood to clamber the steep cliff pockmarked with holes where the stairs foundation was once perched. That appears treacherous as well.
Once the new stairs are complete in the near future, they will not be gated according to Craig Sap, the annuitant-State Parks superintendent. Sap came out of retirement recently returning to his superintendent role. Earlier, Sap told The Malibu Times the new stairs would last a lot longer than the previous ones. And since the cliffside at Point Dume is too steep to accommodate the Americans With Disabilities Act with wheelchair access ramps, Sap reminded that nearby at Westward Beach there is ADA wheelchair accessibility to the beach.