The trails are banked and well worn through the terrain
  • The trails are banked and well worn through the terrain
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The mountain-bike trail behind Miramar National Cemetery at the west end of the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station was crafted with care and skill. It had a bridge over a low point and has drainage pipes through other dips. It's a roller-coaster ride on well-compacted reddish dirt through the canyons west of where the railroad cuts across the 23,000-acre base.

The trails are also indicative of illegal trespassing onto Marine Corps land, says Capt. Chris Robinson.

"There was a funeral service going on here, a family burying a fallen Marine, and these guys pop up out of a canyon on their bikes, sit, and look at the family and drink out of water bottles before they take off back into the canyon," Robinson says. "It was disrespectful to the Marine and to the family."

The incident, he says, was the tipping point on hard-line enforcement against the band of renegades who have brought a range of tools from shovels and hoes, to some kind of earth-moving machinery, most likely a small Bobcat, to clear and degrade a huge circle near the tracks.

"We are not a playground," Robinson says. "We train here. We live here. We are buried here."

It's hard to tell when the trespassers began working on the trails, but it apparently has been for a long time. The earth is compacted and no plants are springing up in them even after recent rains. The trails are banked and well worn through the terrain, and they are marked by recent tire tracks. From the high points, you can see the businesses on Miramar Road and the Avenue of Flags that leads into the cemetery.

The trails stretch for miles, cutting steeply up and down hills, sharply through switchbacks and spurs between the cemetery and the train tracks. The trespassers have cut fences — including those protecting endangered species — and destroyed the signs telling them they are trespassing on sensitive habitat.

Damaged sign

Damaged sign

"We have to replace most of the signs within a month or six weeks of when we put them in," Robinson says. "We put them right on the trail, close enough that you can see the next one while you're standing at this one."

The builders have been working within the past month: green and yellow flags mark a series of switchbacks from the bottom of a canyon to the top, where digging and shaping the trail has begun but ends abruptly after the third tight turn. The land has been dedicated to either the cemetery, which is being built in phases, or as sensitive habitat that's home to vernal pools and endangered native plants or for mitigation.

The cemetery's first phase was dedicated in January 2010 — it is filling up quickly, and work is underway on Phase 2. The cemetery was designed around the vernal pools that are home to fairy shrimp and to San Diego mint, both endangered species.

And then there's the Vortex, a complex of bike trails that someone put a lot of thought and work into. Not only does it put bicyclists in the middle of funerals, it's in the take-off path of the airstrip, with Osprey and Sea Stallion heavy helicopters and FA-18s flying over.

"It's a security problem for so many reasons," Robinson says.

The base military police believe the builders are sneaking onto the base using the fence along Miramar Road and through the utility gates along I-805. And they're watching now, more closely than ever. They want to make a case against the builders that's bigger than just trespassing because the builders are damaging sensitive habitat the Marines have worked hard to establish and nurture.

"There's no way of knowing for sure how many are involved yet," Robinson says. "But it's more than a few. This is a sustained effort over a long period of time." The base's environmental staff has met some of the trespassers, says David Boyer, a biologist on the base who works on habitat. "We always try to educate people," he says. "We've worked hard to make sure that there's been zero loss of habitat and we monitor to make sure what we've done succeeds and thrives.”

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Comments

cvret March 11, 2016 @ 4:46 p.m.

yep, this sounds like mountain biker behavior ----- "There was a funeral service going on here, a family burying a fallen Marine, and these guys pop up out of a canyon on their bikes, sit, and look at the family and drink out of water bottles before they take off back into the canyon"

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Visduh March 11, 2016 @ 5:22 p.m.

Doug Johnson has it right. This has been going on for a very long time, and there's more to the story, if only we could learn what it is. Doesn't it bother you that a military base with all those billions of dollars of aircraft is wide open to mountain bikers? It does me.

My take is that the NW corner of the base has been ignored for more years than we care to admit, and that it was, more or less harmlessly, used for bike trails. But the cemetery and a heightened environmental awareness have forced the USMC to pay attention to the area.

As a hiker, I encounter many mountain bikers. Some are ready to pay the courtesies of the trail that so many signs explain. For those who might not know such courtesies, they have hikers and bikers yielding to horses and their riders. Then the bikers are supposed to yield to the hikers. That puts the bikes at the bottom of the pecking order. Too often the bikers are going far too fast for the trail conditions, and expect or almost demand that hikers get the hell out of their way so that they don't have to slow a bit. I hope the author keeps following this "developing" story, and that we will learn that the Marines really regain control of the base.

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cvret March 11, 2016 @ 9:41 p.m.

I have never seen a mountain biker yield on a trail

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AlexClarke March 12, 2016 @ 7:23 a.m.

I think that the Navy and now the Marines ignored that part of the base and now that there is a National Cemetery there they have discovered that they have no control over that part of the base.

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MichaelRPenrod March 14, 2016 @ 10:43 a.m.

I have written in the past regarding the trespassing on the East Miramar property and we have been aware of the trespassing on the West side by the cemetery as well. Come on people, THIS IS GOVERNMENT LAND! Trespassing is trespassing no matter how you try and slice it. If someone decided to go into your yard and dig it up or make a pass through to another property you would ensure it stopped wouldn't you? California has many areas other than government facilities where you can enjoy hiking and biking, USE THEM. And if you don't like it, as Mr. Crowley so aptly put it: "GO SUCK AN EGG". Be aware, trespassers on government properties are liable for citations, impoundment of vehicles and equipment, and potential imprisonment if they repeatedly ignore warnings and directions that they are trespassing. Don't cry about losing your bikes and getting tickets, just stop trespassing! The purpose of our installation is to provide training of our brave men and women so you can enjoy your freedom to bike and hike. Semper Fi! A Civilian Marine @ MCAS Miramar

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Visduh March 14, 2016 @ 4:45 p.m.

It seems to me that if the Marines decide that use of the trails will stop, it will stop. Obviously, the fences don't hold anyone back if they're intent upon entering the reservation. Tighten up the fences, and put out patrols of the perimeter. Marines are all infanrtymen/women aren't they? Catch a trespasser, write a citation or make an arrest. Pretty soon they stop coming in. Problem solved. Or am I missing some subtlety here?

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