Exploring Lopez Lake

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

Lake_Lopez_woodpeckerIt’s fall and the perfect time to visit one of San Luis Obispo County’s best attractions – Lopez Lake. Pack a picnic and head out through Arroyo Grande Village into the countryside. Soon you will approach the beginning of the lake.

Lopez came into being in 1969 flooding farmland, strawberry fields, and all, to become the water supply for the growing Five Cities area. Two Chumash villages located near the present dam are now under 160 feet of water as is the original ranch belonging to Juan and Jesus Lopez. Trees and buildings were removed in preparation for the flood. It wasn’t long though before area residents recognized that this was a great recreation spot and Lopez Lake became a popular county park.

There are 22 miles of shoreline and afternoon winds make the lake a perfect place for sailing or windsurfing. The lake is also a great place for a canoe or kayak trip. Good boat launching facilities are located adjacent to the marina and store and there are boat and equipment rentals here too.  Waterskiing is especially popular.

Fishing is great at Lopez Lake, which is stocked with rainbow trout, bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill.  You will find fishermen quietly angling in the backwaters of the lakes many arms.

If you love nature then this is the place for you. More than 150 species of birds have been noted and 30 mammal species. Among these are mule deer that are easily seen browsing the oak studded hillsides. Coast live oaks with their acorn abundance attract the colorful and industrious acorn woodpecker. Masters at saving up for a rainy day, this bird goes about in a serious manner drilling numerous holes in the trees. Then they collect acorns and one by one stuff them into the prepared receptacles storing them for future consumption.

Many migratory birds find Lopez Lake a great stopping-off point. A flock of American white pelicans often resides at one end and eared grebes, cormorants, mergansers, and other waterfowl dot the surface of the lake. One of the best ways to see this is to take a ranger guided nature boat tour. Park rangers will take you out on a comfortable, stable pontoon boat that can get back into all the twists and arms of the lake. If you’re really lucky, you may spot a bald eagle perched in a tree or an osprey hunting.

Turkeys also love the acorn rich habitat at Lopez. They even have their own special trail named for them – Turkey Ridge Trail. This is their favorite roosting and feeding area and they are so accustomed to people that you can get pretty close to them.

Hiking is a great way to experience the flora and fauna of the park. Just walking beneath the stately live oaks is a treat. There are numerous trails available and most are relatively easy. Some bring you to views of the lake and others offer panoramic vistas. Along the way you may see evidence of prehistoric times in the shell fossils embedded in the Santa Margarita limestone. This was an inland sea some 26 million years ago and the remains of scallops and oysters stick out of the crumbly soil.

You can enjoy your picnic at one of the lakeside tables. You might even want to stay overnight at one of the tent or RV campgrounds rated among the best in the county.

For more information see www.slocountyparks.org or call (805) 788-2381.

— Ruth Ann Angus


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