Del Mar Mesa trail plan delayed until 2009

The City of San Diego has postponed the unveiling of their Del Mar Mesa Preserve Resource Management Plan until early next year.

The plan was to be released at the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve Citizen's Advisory Council (CAC) meeting Nov. 20.

With the delay, a popular system of trails through the Del Mar Mesa Preserve hangs in the balance as the city weighs whether it should close the canyon to recreational use or devise a trail plan that is the least disturbing to the biologically sensitive land.

"We received a lot of comments on our last draft and we're really trying to make our recommendation reflect those comments," said Chris Zirkle, director of the open space division of San Diego Parks and Recreation.

Zirkle said in addition to reviewing numerous trail user comments, the city is also consulting with the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that own 81 acres and 56 acres of the land respectively.

Zirkle said the city plans to release a trail plan in a couple of weeks before the next CAC meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 15 (the group goes dark in December). The CAC will weigh in on the proposed plan, approving or denying it. The Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Board will also have the opportunity to comment, approve or deny.

Zirkle said that the plan is so controversial that its final approval will probably come from the San Diego City Council.

Protected species

The city's original draft plan included making only one path through the area, the 20-foot wide SDG&E service trail.

Currently, there are numerous trails snaking through the preserve, frequented by bikers, hikers and some equestrians.

These popular trails have been described by users as "gems" -winding, quiet single-track paths that make people feel they are miles from civilization even though they are right next to Highway 56.

But the trails are all illegal, Zirkle said.

The biological significance of the land is spoken about just as lovingly as the trails are. The land is a part of the city's Multiple Species Conservation Project, home to protected species like the San Diego horned lizard and Anna's hummingbird, vernal pools and some of the last areas of the densely growing shrub chaparral in Southern California.

Because the land is so sensitive, the city could opt to entirely close the preserve to recreational use.

"Right now, everything's on the table," Zirkle said. when asked if an all-out closure was being discussed.

Enforcement is critical

Most users don't deny that the lands need to be protected and that redundant and non-sustainable trails should be closed. The San Diego Multi-Use Trail Committee has proposed a plan that keeps a network of trails open. Zirkle said the city is reviewing that plan.

Users have also told the city that they intend to be good stewards of the land and help keep destructive uses away as any kind of trail closure hinges on appropriate enforcement.

"It's my belief that these trail closures are most cost-effectively enforced through the presence of responsible users as a deterrent to counter-productive behaviors," hiker Rod Simmons said.

   
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