Staging during early days (Photo: courtesy CA State Parks)
Staging c 1978. (Photo: © Cheryl Besden)

Elephant seals first began to frequent the mainland at Año­ Nuevo in 1974. After Sunset magazine published an article about the arrival of the seals, thousands of tourists were attracted to the area overnight, making it impossible for the small staff of rangers to protect the seals and the visitors from each other.

Local parks’ staff had the idea that student interns from UC Santa Cruz might act as guides to lead people on tours to see the seals. Working with the researchers at the time, a course was created to teach the interns what they needed to know about the area, the history and the seals. This soon transitioned into the docent program we know and support today.

Initially, the staging area was simply a sandy spot on the trail.  By 1978, as we can see in the photograph on the left, the staging area had improved to a very basic level with the only physical structures being the interpretive panels, a podium, and a few benches—certainly no protection from the elements.

The first building came during the 1980’s and provided storage and some shelter, but not for the visitors.  The occipital bone was moved and a table was provided for interpretive items.

The current building was built around 1988 by a volunteer, J. Thomas. The storage space was increased and a covered exhibit space highlighted the local marine mammals.  The new building provided some protection from the elements for groups starting their guided walk, and for the park staff member or volunteer who might be staffing the station.

Over the intervening 30-plus years, the methods of interpretation have changed. Also the building is always in need of repairs and has a problem with insect infestations. As always, there will be constraints on what can be done and considerations for where the building is placed and what it should look like. This will be a multi-year project as we go through design, review and permitting before construction.

We will keep you updated on this project as it progresses. If you have any comments or suggestions on how we can improve this focal point of the park, please send us an email ( We would love to get feedback from those who are passionate about Año Nuevo.

Using your suggestions, we will work closely with State Parks to identify the top priorities of the project, establish an early funding target, and begin soliciting further donations.