ENCINITAS — Wooden steps bounced up and down as a family of five slowly hiked up a staircase that connects the beach with the San Elijo campgrounds above.Standing mid-way down the same staircase, Bill Wisener pointed with his foot to some slats where rot is particularly bad. Next, he ran his index finger over the splintered handrail. Then, Wisener turned his gaze to one step where a few nails looked in danger of springing loose.
“The old wood and nails spell trouble for the entire stairway,” Wisener said.
Other local stairways leading to the beaches are in a similar state. With this in mind, the nonprofit FCCSB (Friends of Cardiff & Carlsbad State Beaches) recently launched an adopt-a-stairway program.
Wisener, FCCSB’s president, has overseen the effort.
“Millions of people use these stairways to get to the beach every year,” Wisener said. “Preserving the access is something we’re passionate about.”
Similar to adopt-a-highway, individuals, foundations or businesses can fund the repairs and ongoing maintenance of nine stairways in Encinitas and Carlsbad to protect them for future generations.
For donors that wish to be recognized, there will be plaques and chances to display their logos at various points along the stairways.
The stairways fall under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Although they were built in the 1960s, they haven’t undergone major renovations since. Wisener explained that parks and recreation is unlikely to fund repairs due to the state budget crisis.
“They’re having a hard time staffing employees — stairs are low on their priorities,” Wisener said. “We saw an opportunity for locals to get involved.”
Wisener said he isn’t aware of other nonprofits doing similar adopt-a-stairway initiatives, potentially making the program the first of its kind.
Over the years, the San Elijo and Carlsbad campgrounds have lost eight stairways, largely because of storms. They haven’t been replaced, and it’s no wonder, said Ken Hays, who owns a construction business and who is teaming up with FCCSB for the program.
Putting in stairways requires meeting strict guidelines from the California Coastal Commission and conducting environmental studies. All told, the cost of a new stairway is an estimated $250,000 to $300,000, according to Hays.
“Instead of a costly replacement, all that’s needed (is) for the stairs to be revamped,” said Hays, adding that the supports of the stairways are generally in good condition.
Also, repairing the stairways doesn’t demand approval from the coastal commission and other agencies. At a cost of $18,000 to $20,000, which includes three years of maintenance, overhauling a stairway is also much cheaper.
Contractors that donate their time aren’t included in the price of the stairways, as that’s expected to be covered by volunteers. Hays noted people can contribute cash, materials or labor.
Each stairway will take more than a week to renovate. During repairs, the stairways would be closed periodically. Once the facelifts are complete, the lives of the stairways would be extended by more than 25 years.
Hays kicked off the adopt-a-stairway program recently by reconstructing a stairway in Carlsbad. So far, he’s added a new support beam and revamped the handrail, among other improvements.
“I’ve heard people I don’t know passing by comment how much better it is already,” Hays said.
FCCSB is a 501 (c) 3 dedicated to education and preservation at San Elijo State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach.