Refugio State Beach closed for repairs, but officials hope to reopen it later this summer

One of California’s most popular state beaches remains closed as crews repair extensive winter storm damage, but officials are hoping to reopen it this summer.

Refugio State Beach — on a pristine stretch of coastline in Santa Barbara County — was inundated by extreme rain and flooding in February that caused a “complete failure” of a culvert system, resulting in numerous sinkholes, according to the state park’s website.

Although there is no official reopening date, parks officials are “hopeful Refugio State Beach will reopen sometime this summer,” said Jorge Moreno, southern communication manager for the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

The culvert — installed when the 101 Freeway was built in the 1950s — failed because of corrosion, Moreno said in an email. The pipe rusted out and water traveled around the culvert.

California State Parks has been working with the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department to replace the culvert, which began June 5. State Parks completed a review for environmental compliance and obtained permits from regulatory agencies, Moreno said.

As a result of the environmental review process, work is being completed in consultation with local tribal governments and under the direction of State Parks archaeologists.

In addition to the culvert damage at the state beach, 10 canary date palms were blown down this winter and 14 others were removed by a contractor at the direction of a forester, Moreno said. There are more than 200 canary date palms at Refugio.

The state beach has experienced other damage in recent years. Storms that swept through in January 2023 caused $7.5 million in damage to Refugio, according to a damage estimate included in a report submitted by State Parks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the state’s efforts to get federal aid for repairs.

Refugio State Beach also faces increasing threats from climate change, leading State Parks to develop an updated general plan for Refugio along with nearby El Capitán State Beach and Gaviota State Park. The new plan will include recommendations for modernizing park infrastructure, adapting to climate change effects and providing sustainable recreational opportunities.

“All three parks have experienced many changes since the original General Plans were adopted, and the guidance provided in the 1979 plans is now outdated,” according to a State Parks release.

“Ongoing damage from severe winter storms, impending sea-level-rise and other climate change impacts, aging infrastructure, significant acquisition of new property, high-recreation demand, and the need to protect natural, cultural, and recreational resources all contribute to the need for updated plans.”

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.