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.
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.”
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.