Bases once isolated from cities are increasingly butting up against urban sprawl.
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On Sunday, January 17, Elizabeth Daubner was enjoying a weekend bike ride with several other riders in the Sycamore Canyon region to the east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. She had parked in a lot off of Highway 67 and descended down the Ridge Trail into Goodan Ranch. A short while after passing through the southern gate of the ranch, her group had a startling encounter.

“I don’t know, a quarter mile, maybe a little farther, and we came across the military,” Daubner said. “They were down in the river area and they came up to us fully armed. They made us stop and then escorted us down to their staging area.”

Specifically, the soldiers guided the riders to a nearby trail — which runs parallel to the trail Daubner was riding and was a short distance to the west — and looped them back up to the southern gate of Goodan Ranch. There, the Marines issued citations to the riders and hikers and confiscated the bikes.

The exact location of where the riders were stopped, as well as where the citations were issued, is at the heart of this dispute.

“I had no idea if I was on their land,” Daubner said. “I would certainly guess not, but you have to be a surveyor to try and figure it out.” She insists that she never passed any signs that indicated they were on the air station property. “And the military verified that,” she added. “They said, ‘We know you didn’t.’ It was pointed out to them that we didn’t go by any ‘no trespassing’ signs, and they agreed that there were no ‘no trespassing’ signs, but that we were trespassing.”

As for the location of the ticketing, the area to which the soldiers escorted the riders is not on MCAS property. Jessica Geiszler, the marketing and public outreach manager for the County of San Diego, stated in an email that, “Several of the mountain bikers who were cited for trespassing did, in fact, receive citations on County land. These bikers were tracked coming into County land from an area where they were not allowed. They were stopped in an open-circle turnabout within Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve that served as a safe stopping point for both bikers and military personnel. We did not have advance notice of this situation. That said, [the Marine Corps] has the right to issue federal fines and to confiscate bikes for unlawful riding on trails that are currently closed to the public.”

The ticketing was part of a sweeping enforcement effort by the Marines that took place this past Martin Luther King Day weekend. In total, 45 bikes were confiscated by patrols in the southern “East Elliot” side of the base as well as the eastern edge where Daubner ran into the Marines.

Abandoned Atlas missile testing facility

According to the Marines, trespassing on the base is a chronic issue, primarily due to the fact that the base borders a series of recreational spaces — Mission Trails, Sycamore Canyon, Goodan Ranch — and has no fencing that clearly defines its borders. Some trespassers intentionally enter the base to check out, for example, the abandoned Atlas missile testing facility, while others, such as a grandfather and his grandkids who wandered onto the edge of the property while I was being given a tour of the base, stumble onto it by accident.

When queried about base boundaries and possible fencing options, the Marines responded, “The air station spans 23,000 acres, of which 15,000 acres are located east of I-15. Aside from the massive costs expended for a fencing project of that magnitude, the East Miramar training areas consist of, or border, many environmentally sensitive areas and open-space habitat linkages. Constructing an environmentally acceptable fence would be expensive and ineffective against the vast majority of trespassers who ride past existing signs.”

Elizabeth Daubner created this map of her military encounter.

The signage issue is a matter of contention between the recreationists and the Marines. Daubner insisted that there was no signage providing a warning that she was entering Marine Corps property from the southern gate at Goodan Ranch, and a picture she provided to the Reader seems to reinforce this point. Daubner isn’t the first to experience an issue of this nature.

Before Ben Stone took on his role as the vice president of the San Diego Mountain Bike Association (SDMBA), he had a similar run-in to the one Daubner experienced this past January. Stone was confronted near the southern edge of the base in the East Elliot region three years ago.

“I was eating a Subway sandwich after riding up top there,” he said. “It was 20-plus guys with dogs, ATVs, and fully loaded machine guns. I actually have a video of it because I thought it was the wildlife agencies coming over the hill, or a ranger or something. I saw a dust cloud coming at me over the ridge lines, and then vehicle after vehicle just kept coming. We talked very nicely back and forth, me in a very high-pitched voice, as they were wrong, as I was actually on Mission Trails property. I had come up [a trail south and east of the base’s border called] Mr. Toads. At the time, I had zero idea about any ownership in the area.”

Similarly, Daubner’s route, which ran south toward the border of the base on the Sycamore Ranch side, most likely avoided any crossover onto military property, whereas riders in the same area heading north most likely did cross onto military property before they encountered the soldiers.

Here’s where things get tricky. After reviewing maps provided by Stone, it seems likely that both Stone and Daubner not only avoided passing through military land before they confronted the soldiers, but even when they did eventually cross paths with them, there is a high likelihood that they were still on public property. But, according to Capt. Chris Robinson (the operations officer for the provost marshal’s office), the sign at the top of Mr. Toad’s is about 50 yards north of the base’s border, and the larger sign at the top of the popular Three Barrels trail is even farther north than that. This would imply that Stone was on base property, though not far, during his encounter. In the end, Stone exited his confrontation with a warning, while Daubner exited hers with a federal citation and minus one $3000 mountain bike.

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Javajoe25 April 13, 2016 @ 12:52 p.m.

This whole situation between the military and bike riders reeks of jackboot gestapo tactics. The military has no interest in clearly defining their borders because then they would lose the opportunity to be able to ride out and strong arm some civilians while confiscating their bikes. It is completely ludicrous that the military would be permitted to run around with weapons at the ready when they can't even say exactly where their borders are. The fact is, the military has no reason to be holding on to such large tracts of land when all they use it for is to play got'cha with cyclists. I can understand the shooting range needing some space but what is all that other property for? They don't train there; they never use it for anything. A large part of it ought to be returned to the county. As for any land the public can no longer use because the military cannot be sure whether it holds unexploded shells or ammo, they should be required to compensate the county for the loss and/or provide other land as compensation. The idea of the military being provided or taking whatever land they want whether or not they need it should no longer be tolerated. Just as what was done with the Navy's NTC property in San Diego, where they realized they did not need that much land anymore and so it was converted to civilian housing, markets, and recreation. I'm not advocating the land near Mission Gorge or Miramar be used for more housing, but if it is no longer needed by the military, as it appears it is not, then the land should be used for recreational purposes, rather than just sitting there like some hostile (un)occupied territory.


surfer28 April 13, 2016 @ 11:30 p.m.

Just because they do not post a Youtube Video every time they doing training it does not mean that they do not use the entire base for training. Recently, I did a tour of Miramar and units from all over the country doing training there.


SanteeRider45 April 13, 2016 @ 9:30 p.m.

I have ridden that trail for over 17 years with never an incident, I enjoyed the isolation and scenery of that area. I like not being around people for once in San Diego. Now some jack-ass kids build an illegal trail near the Marines cemetery off the 805 (other side of the base) and sets them off on a frenzy. Well as a non-military citizen, I am sorry for that to happen its disrespectful and a disgrace but don’t go FAR out of your way to profile every civilian as the initial offenders. Now Marines are overzealously ticketing the public outside of their base to make their point??

This pretty much sums up the situation: “You must respect my authority, regardless if I am wrong or right and I will make you sorry you hurt my feelings!!”

Hopefully someday cooler heads will prevail and I am talking about the Marines. As the public we can only hope that another round of base closures will happen in 2017. They don’t want work with the community they serve and refuse to budge or negotiate in good faith.


surfer28 April 13, 2016 @ 11:45 p.m.

The Marines enforcing there boundaries along Miramar is NOT a new thing!!! If you do not believe me Google "Miramar Trespassing." The idea that many of these riders had no idea that sections of the Stowe Trail where on Base is not believable. How could they miss the maps posted at any Goodan Ranch or Mission Trails Staging Area? How about the park boundary signs posted in Spring or Oak Canyon? Could someone please show me the legal park map that says that the Stow Trail is legal to ride. For once these riders "play dumb," routine did not work and know everyone is throwing a fit.


LarryG April 14, 2016 @ 11:26 a.m.

Really? Enforcing boundaries is not a new thing? Doesn't it make more sense for signs to denote that it is illegal to be on property then for someone to put up a sign that says "hey, it's OK to be on this property - come on in". My neighbors and I have been walking on fire trails on the east edge of Scripps Ranch for over 30 years. There are NO fences, signs or warnings to let anyone know that you may be on marine land. These fire trails are within eyesight of our homes and are not used for Marine training activities.

We were recently ticketed for walking these trails and subsequently took a trip to the county recorders mapping office to find out where the real boundaries are. It turns out that the majority of these fire trails adjacent to the east end of Scripps Ranch are on either SD city land, University of California land or HOA land. The boundaries of the marine land intermittently jut into these fire trails for short distances and there is no signage letting anyone know where this marine property begins or ends.

This instant heavy handed enforcement of invisible boundaries by armed marines and MP's without warning is out of control. As Diane Jacobs noted, there was a logical agreement with the marine base commander in the works that would eliminate the majority of these infringement issues. The marines need to be good neighbors, not our advisories and get back to the table to make this work for San Diego hikers and mounainbikers.


surfer28 April 14, 2016 @ 10:06 p.m.

I guess you missed the following Larry:

My point is that this not a new issue and as a resident of Scripps Ranch for the last 30 years its hard to believe that you had no idea that you were on Miramar.


Ponzi April 15, 2016 @ 9:32 a.m.

When I was young, my friends and I would go to the Atlas missile test site and investigate what was left. Sometimes we spent the entire day exploring. One time a couple of Navy personnel were patrolling and they just asked us to leave. They said the site was dangerous and that we should not be crawling around in the buildings because of safety issues. That was in the 70's. No weapons were displayed. Just a couple of guys in a jeep being very nice and pointing out we were on restricted federal land. Times have changed.


Dryw Keltz April 15, 2016 @ 3:46 p.m.

I'd like to mention that the two Marines on the cover were standing near "No Trespassing" signs when photographed. Also, the old Atlas missile test site had areas of extreme bee infestation. It also had some sheer drops that would be easy to miss at night. It makes sense that people should steer clear of this area for their own safety. In the East Elliot region, along with the outside threat of unexploded ordnance, there is also the chance of getting hit by a bullet ricocheting off an object near the firing range. This additional threat does not apply to the base's land that would have been transferred with the Stowe Trail deal. Lastly, Daubner informed me this morning via email that some of the bikes had been returned damaged. The riders are apparently filing damage claims with the military.


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