Signs posted at MCAS Miramar
  • Signs posted at MCAS Miramar
  • from 2013 MCAS "Don't Trespass" video
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The old Stowe Trail that has connected Santee to Poway for more than 100 years is slated to open back up in mid-April. The trail travels along the eastern side of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

According to Susie Murphy, executive director of San Diego Mountain Biking Association, the trail has been used by mountain bikers for at least 30 years.

Stowe Trail

photo by Jose Galaz

“When it was a Navy base in the Top Gun days, they didn’t seem to care and the boundary was rarely enforced,” said Murphy. “When the Marines took it over, it became more of an issue. They have a firing range and riders started making their way into the base up onto the ridge in the line of fire. This was the impetus for bikes getting confiscated in 2016.”

In January 2016, Miramar military police confiscated approximately 45 bikes when they found riders within the base’s borders. Some riders claimed they didn’t know they were trespassing, blaming lack of proper signage. Others claimed they weren’t even on the base and were ticketed on county property.

The Marine base abuts Mission Trails Regional Park

Murphy said that part of the confusion was that the base wasn’t clear on where their boundaries were. She said the conflict forced the Marines to GPS their boundaries.

Marine colonel Jason Woodworth said there is no validity to Murphy’s statement and military police knew exactly where the boundaries were. “Ninety percent of those bikes [confiscated in January 2016] were on the installation — and there were a couple where they were [ticketed] off the installation, [but] they were seen in the installation.”

Woodworth explained that Stowe Trail is four to four and a half miles and at some point weaves in and out of the base to the north and also down by Santee Lake, by Goodan Ranch.

Multiple trails pass by the Marine base boundaries

According to Woodworth, the Marines took over the base from the Navy in 1997 and the problem with cyclists and hikers has been going on for years. In 2015, everything came to a head when there were ten incidents inside the firing range when Marines were training.

Over the past year, a compromise was found with a lot of different players: Marines, City of San Diego, County of San Diego, City of Santee, and private developers.

Murphy said that county supervisor Dianne Jacob is the hero of this story, as she’s been working to connect Santee to the end of Mission Trails via the Stowe Trail for more than 25 years.


History of Stowe

History of Stowe

Murphy said the trail has a lot of history. The township of Stowe was settled in the 1880s and the trail was used as a route for farmers to take produce to El Cajon. By 1905, the town had already started to die out, mostly due to extreme weather conditions and the isolation caused by the railroad canceling plans to pass through Stowe. In the 1930s, the Goodan family bought most of the Stowe land to add to their ranch.

Murphy says opening up Stowe Trail is only the first step. It won’t immediately connect Stowe to Mission Trails Regional Park. “That involves a whole other layer. The way that the trail is going to be open in April is that they will enter the trail off Fanita Parkway on the east side of Santee Lakes. Eventually, the new Castle Rock development, right across from the high school on Mast [Boulevard], will eventually have a wide dirt pathway that will lead north paralleling Medina then hook up to Stowe.”

According to Murphy, the bigger plan to connect the trails can be found within the master plan update for Mission Trails Regional Park, which will be reviewed by the city council in May or June. A draft of the master plan is already posted online.

Mission Trails is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and has been called San Diego’s third jewel (Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park being the other two).

Marine on trail patrol

Woodworth said that the only way anyone will be allowed to ride Stowe Trail is to apply for a permit. “Everybody, including me, my family, any active military, has to go through the permit process. No exceptions.” Children under ten can be added to their parents’ application. The permits will be similar to a driver’s license. According to Woodworth, the permits will last for one year and there will be no mechanism for reminding anyone about renewals.

Murphy said she picked up her permit on March 16. “They are using me and my board as guinea pigs.” Murphy explained that the process takes a couple weeks and involves two trips to the base.

The Marines have been warning people for years. In a 2013 video posted on their website, it clearly shows they were stepping up their efforts. In 2014, they similarly posted an article. The bike association also has been passing along the Marines’ message to their members since at least 2015.

Murphy said her association is getting ready to manage 50 volunteers on April 1 to work on the Stowe Trail. Part of the work will be to cover up side trails that go west onto the base. The work was originally scheduled for the end of January but had to be rescheduled three times due to rain.

Woodworth said the new signs along the trail will keep people from wandering out of bounds. There will also still be signs along the base border warning of trespassing.

“We are intending to do an announcement in early to mid-April,” said Woodworth. “We will open up the permitting process and the trail at the same time. We may have to close the trail at times for operations and if the rain washes it away.” He said a link with more information is ready but not activated yet. It will be on the Marines’ Miramar website. Alerts for trail closures will also be listed, as necessary.

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CaptainObvious March 20, 2017 @ 1:42 p.m.

We were riding there in the 60s and 70s on dirt bikes. When do we get to come back?


Debra Campbell Jan. 17, 2018 @ 5:18 a.m.

This is really the really bad decision. I don't think this is good for the local cycling community.


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