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I had not hiked up Cowles Mountain since June but did so again on October 17. I was stunned to discover the severity of damage done to the main trail and the surrounding habitat during the past few months.

On weekends, hundreds of people crowd the main trail to exercise and enjoy spectacular panoramic views. For some reason, this summer was different. The mountain and trail were devastated by thousands of feet going out of bounds.

I returned to photograph the magnitude of destruction and observed hikers leaving the trail to take some easier shortcuts up the mountain. There is no signage to alert them that they are off the trail and trampling sensitive habitat.

The most visible slope and trail damage has occurred below the half-mile marker. Some sections of the trail are so trampled that it has expanded in width to resemble a 40- to 50-foot-wide fire-break road. Other boulder-strewn swaths have loose soil and are difficult to negotiate, so new shortcuts are bushwhacked to gain easier footing, further compounding the erosion problem.

With the rainy season approaching, slope erosion will escalate with the unimpeded flow of water down the denuded slopes. In November, Park & Recreation plans to utilize a fire helicopter to drop materials at strategic locations along the trail so trail-repair work can be undertaken by the Friends of Cowles Mountain group.

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MsGrant Oct. 20, 2010 @ 8:40 a.m.

Thanks, Joan for getting the word out. This is hands down my favorite place to go hiking in San Diego. I was just out at Torrey Pines last weekend and remarked to a friend how they do such a great job making sure that people understand how sensitive the habitat is and how I wish Cowles had a way to enforce hikers to stay on the trails. I have seen people brazenly cut their own swaths and it makes me wonder if it is just plain ignorance, arrogance, or the destructive combination of both. Signage would be a great place to start. Many people do not instinctively know they are doing wrong. They have to be told. And maybe a sign-up notification posted at the trail-heads to give hikers information on how to volunteer to help restore the damage back to its original condition. Just knowing that it doesn't fix itself may convince a few to stay on trail.


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