Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fear and Loathing on the trails of San Diego County

I run into a lot of people on the trail while out on patrol and I have been hearing a lot of concern regarding what is happening in San Diego/North County with the trail systems. Their main concern is that as of late the parks are only focused on taking trails out rather than putting them in. That's only a tiny piece of the story, the process of building trails in San Diego/North County is fairly involved costing tens of thousands of dollars just to get a concept off the ground. If all the stars align and you manage to be able to pay for every environmental study that comes your way then you may be able to start to build your trail within a year. Very rarely does that scenario happen, but it does.

Why? We live in a dry semi-arid climate (very little rainfall) that just so happens to be next to a nice coast line, guess what; everybody wants to live here. So we have to take steps to ensure there will be viable habitat in the future that everyone and everything can enjoy. Because of the area we live in our resources are very finite, meaning in a lot of cases that once it's gone, it's gone. Remember we live in a dry semi-arid climate with not a lot of rainfall, not the lush forests of Oregon. Most of the parks you see throughout the county are "Open Space Preserves" set up to do one job. That job is to protect the natural resources of the area. Is it a perfect system? No. But were it not in place, we wouldn't be discussing trails because there wouldn't be any, just a bunch of houses and tract homes as far as the eye can see.

The San Dieguito River Park is always looking to build more trail. Trails are a good way to protect habitat, by making sustainable trails users are able to enjoy and learn about the benefits of an area. We plan to build a lot of trail in the future but we need to make it to that point first without anything impeding the process. As a park we know how to work with government agencies on the best way to put these trails in. We may not see eye to eye, but that's how the game is played and as a park we are players in that game. The privateer illegal trail builder is not. If you wanna see a trail system get shut down in San Diego build an illegal trail on it. It may not happen over night but it will happen.

Some of the issues that illegal trails cause a land manager and why they get shut down are, destruction of habitat, non sustainable trails that cause safety issues, the blatant disregard for the lands on the outside of the parks, increased maintenance costs, all of which push back the legal process of us, the land manager, being able to go out there and build trail. The process takes time but until someone changes the process that's where we stand in "Americas Finest City". Just because it doesn't look like we're building trail doesn't mean we're not going to be. If you want to affect change come on out and put your trail building skills to use and help us maintain the trails we already have.

That never works you say, we give and help but it doesn't do anything you say. If there's a will there's a way, every positive step made is a step in the right direction. That's exactly how I started. I rode the trails around San Diego county for years and then like a lot people I know asked myself "I wonder if there's anything I can  do to help maintain some of these trails I enjoy riding so much. I was a volunteer for this park and others from 1993 'til 1999, I did trail maintenance and a bike patrol before most of the riders on the trail today could even ride a bike. I was hired as a contract employee and eventually hired on as a full time employee. I've always had the rider in mind but understood from early on the give and take we as a user group would go through. Mountain biking as a user group has been on a steady climb since then and it is only now that the effects of such a large user group are being felt. The knee jerk reaction that a lot of the parks are dealing with right now only reveals the extent of the problem. Slowly but surely the tides are changing and more consideration is being given to things like "bike only" trials and bike parks. This just means that in the meantime even more pressure will be put on the biking community to be an overly responsible user group. We need representatives that want to effect change not just be a bunch of renegade trail builders.

The way things are starting to setup, I have high hopes for the future of mountain biking in San Diego/North County. Local programs like my mountain bike patrol and the events that more and more parks are doing, are being talked about by a lot of different government agencies, on a lot of different levels. Who really knows though, maybe I'm just some optimistic asshole with rose colored glasses on. Doesn't matter, no one really reads these blogs anyway.