The finish line of the protest at Mission Trails Regional Park
One Father Junípero Serra Trail, San Carlos, CA
At least 500 mountain-bikers, hikers, and equestrians paraded through Mission Trails Regional Park on Saturday morning, January 11, to protest the closing of popular trails in the northeastern section of the well-used open-space area.
"There's a long built-up frustration and you're seeing it turn into movement," said Matt Bartelt, who rode the protest with his children. "We have a lot of open space where you see trails continually marked as illegal — they're shutting down trails and there's no adequate plan to replace them."
The San Diego Mountain Biking Association backed — but did not take credit for organizing — the protest after a series of meetings with the city’s Park & Recreation Department failed to produce a plan to reopen trails — even with the biking association offer of help to get the work done.
For four-year-old Gavin, who rode in the parade, the problem is simple: “Our jumps are closed now," he said. "Closing jumps for kids is sad."
City Park & Rec. closed the trails in response to a demand letter from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife sent in August. Among other things, the letter forbids the park from going forward with any trails until the wildlife protectors are satisfied.
"The unauthorized construction and use of trails should be immediately addressed and effectively controlled prior to moving forward with plans to redesign or construct new trails in [Mission Trails Regional Park],” the letter states. The trails that have been closed were developed without park approval on an acquired parcel in the northeast corner, an area known as East Elliot.
The wildlife agencies acknowledge that the department is strapped for money and resources but insist that the damaged plants be restored and that enforcement patrols be done; a fine would cost a bicyclist up to $1500.
While mountain bikers and hikers view them as trails, the city says they are not and never were.
"We are not closing trails since the city has never officially opened and/or authorized the trails," wrote Chris Zirkle, deputy director of Park & Rec’s Open Space Division. "There is a process in place to create legitimate trails and that process is underway via an update to the Mission Trails Regional Park Plan. This update would incorporate the East Elliott area into Mission Trails Regional Park and revise the entire Trails Plan for the park."
But the letter from the state and federal wildlife agencies advises that more trails should be closed — the letter advocates "consolidating" trails throughout the park. There's no indication that any trails would be left in the East Elliott area, which has been identified in the city's Multiple Species Conservation Program as a “Core Biological Area.”
Bartelt has been riding in the park since 1989 and is particularly concerned about the changes because he believes that park users are being ignored.
"We are not being listened to," he said flatly. "We're out here with the best intentions and we're asking them to work with us to find a balance. We support conservation and we support recreational use. Those are compatible ideas."
The protest drew supporters from a number of hikers, the Bonita Valley Horsemen association, the Bonita Bikers, and from Tijuana River Valley equestrians who are experiencing similar trail closures.
"We are advocates for all trail users whether they use shoes, hooves, or wheels. This is about access to recreation areas," said mountain-biking association president Mike MacGregor. "We do thousands of hours of work a year restoring trails, maintaining trails, picking up trash. We are skilled, trained volunteers and we can't get them to work with us or let us help."