Edible Monterey Bay

South of the Bridge, Big Sur Watches and Waits

March 21, 2017 – Times have been tough before in Big Sur, but never quite like this. Nature unleashed fury in the form of fire, then water, to devastating effect, and now residents are trying to figure out how to live life in a community cut off from almost everywhere else.

Although CalTrans is promising a new Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge by September, some residents are doubtful that it will happen that fast. Clearing of some slides on Highway 1 last week has allowed access to businesses such as Big Sur River Inn, the Roadhouse, and Fernwood on the northern side of Big Sur, but the ones south of the bridge are continuing to watch and wait.

The highway—pretty much the lifeline to everything—is the key to the tourism that typically keeps Big Sur folks employed. Those in the restaurant and hospitality business are being particularly hard hit right before the busiest months of the year.

Access to the south will come sooner, but no one in Big Sur is holding their breath, given the unpredictability of slides and other obstructions that could interfere with CalTrans work. As of Tuesday, supply runs were allowed through Paul’s Slide, south of Lucia, on Fridays, according to Kate Woods Novoa, who blogs as Big Sur Kate. She emails that Kurt Mayer of Big Sur Deli and Taphouse and Bill Cox of U.S. Foods have been helping supply businesses in the cut-off area with food, “even though so few businesses are open to the public, they are taking care of the staff they have on site to take care of things while they are closed.”

“The highway to the south won’t open until May or June,” says Mike Freed, owner of the Post Ranch Inn, in an email earlier this week. “Beyond that I need a few more days to finalize Post Ranch’s plan as to when we reopen.”

Doris Jolicoeur, general manager of Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn & Restaurant, echoed that by saying “We don’t know when we’re going to be open again … we’re shut down.”

A similar holding pattern is the case for other establishments in the afflicted area, such as Nepenthe and Ventana. “The six-million-dollar question is how long will that bridge take to rebuild,” Nepenthe manager Kirk Gafill told the Monterey Herald. “No time frame is meaningful at this point.”

Articles in the national media have focused attention recently on the plight of Deetjen’s, which had several buildings damaged by mudslides. A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign has so far raised $33,000 toward rebuilding in just over three weeks.

In addition, a fund-raising event for Deetjen’s is being planned for Carmel’s Cultura y Bebida, says Deetjen spokeswoman Jeanne Crowley: “John Cox offered a space for us in the next few weeks.” More details on that event will be posted as soon as they’re available.

In the meantime, there are other fundraising efforts under way. One at Carmel’s Cherry Center for the Arts this weekend is “Big Sur Community After the Storm Fun-Raiser,” this Saturday from 7-9:30 p.m. The evening of song and spoke word is selling tickets on a sliding scale from $20 to $100; RSVP at Eventbrite.

The Big Sur Fashion Show has also made plans to relocate to The Barnyard in Carmel on May 19, with net proceeds to be split between Henry Miller Library and the Community Foundation for Monterey County Big Sur Relief Fund. Tickets are expected to go on sale soon; for information, see www.bigsurfashionshow.org or www.facebook.com/bigsurfashionshow.

Big Sur residents are continuing to do what they can despite all the uncertainty. “This has been really difficult for employees, just dealing with the unknown,” says Deetjen’s Crowley. “It’s been very stressful.”