Carmel Valley planners recommend approval of management plan for local preserves/trails — with conditions
By Karen Billing
It has been more than 10 years in the making, but a resource management plan for the Carmel Mountain and Del Mar Mesa Preserves is finally inching closer toward being finalized. This is good news for hiking, biking and equestrian fans of the Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails — all of the popular, yet illegal trails through the preserve have been closed to the public for over three years.
With this new plan some of those trails, such as those known as Tunnel 2 and 4, will be allowed to reopen but others will stay forever closed after a lengthy debate between the city’s open space division and the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which own 81 acres and 56 acres of land respectively.
On May 26, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board became the first board to recommend approval of the management plan — but with conditions. Board members told city staff that they would still like to see some kind of east-west connection in the trails plan; currently there is none as the California Department of Fish and Game refused to allow trails through the eastern portion it owns due to vernal pool habitat.
Board member Allen Kashani, also an avid mountain biker, said it is a big problem to not have that east-west connection.
“I think the plan misses the mark…I know that people are not going to buy into this plan, I know it’s going to fail, ” Kashani said.
The board backed Kashani’s opinion on the lack of an eastern link, an opinion also voiced by the Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board.
“This plan is completely impractical,” said Del Mar Mesa Chair Gary Levitt. “Without the connections, it’s a trail to nowhere.”
Levitt said that he doesn’t understand Fish and Game’s position to completely block trails through its property as he said Fish and Game has done the least work to maintain its land over the years, allowing it to become an “eyesore.” He said the management plan has an opportunity to help create an attraction with the vernal pools—instead of keeping people out, they could allow people to come in and see and experience what the plan is protecting.
“We need to fight for those types of solutions,” said Levitt, noting that surrounding communities should be able to have access.
Board member Anne Harvey disagreed, expressing disappointment in the sheer number of illegal trails forged through the preserve over the years.
“The idea of preserves isn’t that everybody and his brother has a way to get there,” Harvey said.
Harvey said she could understand Fish and Game’s resistance as its property had been fenced off but trespassers came out with a bulldozer and lifted the fence’s gates off its hinges.
“We have talked to (California Department of Fish and Game) until we’re red in the face and they won’t allow trails,” said Chris Zirkle, deputy director of the city’s open space division. “We have conveyed to them that the big public push is for an east-west connector.”
After all the affected community planning boards weigh in (including Del Mar Mesa and Rancho Penasquitos), the Los Penasquitos Canyon Citizens Advisory Committee will also give its recommendation, with the San Diego City Council having the final say.
The preserves in question are part of San Diego’s Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP), which protects various plant and animal habitats. Development is restricted in the Multiple Habitat Planning Areas (MHPA) to preserve those sensitive ecosystems.
While the planning document deals with all areas of managing these preserves, the trail system has been the “hot button” issue. Zirkle said their priority is preservation not recreation but they still made a strong effort to listen to the user community.
“I’m very proud of the public outreach we have on this,” said Zirkle.
Zirkle said they were able to work in ideas from the extensive comments — Help from the San Diego Mountain Bike Association resulted in getting some of the “Tunnel” trails included in the plan. The tunnels are a narrow system of trails originally forged by migrant workers that wind through the preserve under a canopy of brush.
Kashani said those “quaint” single track type of trails are preferred by users over 15-foot-wide, SDG&E roads that are “pelleted with vernal pools.”
Many SDG&E trails are included in the plan.
Board member Jill McCarty said she agreed with Kashani and wished every trail could be two feet wide but times have changed. She said today there are more users on the trails — be it bikers, equestrians or moms with strollers—and the safety of a wider trail is sometimes preferred.
“We need to be grateful for the single track trails they have designated and understand the agencies in charge are all about preservation, not about recreation. Some things we have to give up,” McCarty said. “Years ago I used to be able to ride for 20 miles and not see a single fence or house. Those days are gone.”
Levitt said that enforcement is going to be the only way this plan works. He also requested more signage in the preserve to inform people they are on sensitive land and to stay on the designated trails and not create new ones.
“If there’s no signage people have no way of knowing it’s a preserve, they think they can abuse it now because it’s only going to be graded and filled up with houses,” Levitt said.
Zirkle said the city held off on putting up signs over the last three years because they didn’t want to appear biased about the eventual trail configuration.
“Once the trails are approved, you will see a big influx of signage,” Zirkle said.
- Trails committee created
- Number of usable Del Mar Mesa Preserve trails under debate
- Plan for trail system still on hold
- Del Mar Mesa trail plan delayed until 2009
- Mesa Preserve resource management plan recommendation delayed
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