Last year, mountain bikers who trespassed onto U.S. Marine Corps land at the east end of Miramar received $500 citations and saw their bikes (and in one case, a motorcycle) seized by military police.
Next year, they'll be allowed to ride through as long as they have a base-issued permit if all goes according to plan.
"The decision has been made to open Stowe Trail to the public next year," Lt. Casey Littesy wrote in an email. "We will be pushing information out through press releases as the date nears."
The Marines were unable to provide a date, but said they should have one in the next few months. The information that the trail would soon be public, in response to a "What's up with bikes" email, came as a surprise to people who have been working on it.
Opening the Stowe Trail to the public and connecting the Santee end of Mission Trails Regional Park to the southwest corner of Poway is a project that county supervisor Dianne Jacob has worked on for more than a decade.
More than once, since 2003, the county has nearly closed the deal with the Marine Corps, only to have it fall apart — including a year that brought a change of command just as the departing commander was to sign off on opening the trail.
"While I have not heard directly from the Marine Corps on this, opening the historic trail to the public would be a huge breakthrough, especially for those of us who have fought for access for decades," Jacob said in an email. "I'm very interested in learning the details of their plan."
During the last round of bike seizures, the San Diego Mountain Bike Association worked hard to get the word out to the mountain-biking community that using the trail is trespassing — while pressing the Marines to open a discussion of how to create trail access that could be controlled. "
"The trouble with not allowing a connector trail is that people will create their own trails and that results in damage to sensitive habitat that could be avoided by having a designated trail," mountain-bike association president Kevin Loomis said. "We started working with the Marines to see how we can make this work."
At the height of last year's bike seizures — the verboten trail goes behind a live-ammunition target range, so training operations had to stop until the trail area was cleared, costing an estimated $10,000 per incident — Marines took the bikes as evidence. Mountain bikers hired an attorney to get their pricey bikes back.
"The Marines have been extremely attentive and aware in trying to find a solution that works for everyone," Loomis said.
He pointed out that a new development by Pardee Homes called Castle Rock, which opens next year, promises to bring hundreds more bicyclists and hikers to the trail — the sales brochure shows a family on mountain bikes.
"Pardee has created a trail through Castle Rock that dead-ends where the Stowe Trail starts," Loomis said. "That has the potential to bring many more people to the Stowe Trail."
There is one missing link, Loomis said. There's a tenth of a mile between the end of Mission Trails and the start of the Stowe Trail that is on city-park-owned land. "This teeny piece of land is what's holding everything up, and that little section will take you to hundreds of miles of trail. Without it, it doesn't work."
The mountain-bike association is working with city councilman Scott Sherman's office on persuading the parks department to let them use it, he said.