Trails development at Polo Club faces criticism

The San Diego Polo Club is running into a bumpy path in developing a revised plan for the public trail that runs along its property.

The club's plans call for shrinking the trails from 40-feet-wide to 24-feet-wide and replanting native species along the open space the trail borders.

The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority is doing its best to alter that course, maintaining that the polo club is misusing the public trail as an exercise track for polo ponies.

The group also says that the club should be more careful in using the land, given its proximity to the protected wetlands and river valley.

Chris Collins, who owns the polo club property at Via de la Valle and El Camino Real, said he hopes to resolve all of the park agency's concerns.

Waiting for comments

"We're trying to correct it and still operate because I think it's a valuable asset to the community," Collins said.

The club is waiting to receive comments back from the county regarding its project. If approved, Collins said he hopes to begin the work right away.

Collins said that the trails on his property have always been open to the public and that people are even welcome to come use the polo field grass when it is not in use.

The club is only home to polo ponies during the season, which runs from April through October.

The trail comes in from the El Camino Real undercrossing and runs all the way down to a back polo field that is not seen from the road. On that portion of the trail, it splits to an upper and lower path.

Replanting lower trail

Collins said only the upper part will be maintained as a trail; the lower part closer to the riverbed will all be replanted with natives plants.

But Shawna Anderson, an environmental planner with the park authority, said that while the trails may be open, they aren't exactly useable.

"The problem with joint use is that for months out of the year it is disced for horses and does not accommodate walkers or bikes," Anderson said.

Discing is a process in which the soil is turned and loosened up to make it softer for horses' hooves - but the process doesn't make it easier on other uses, she said.

Additionally, during the polo season, ponies are often exercised in tied-up groups, said Anne Harvey, planning board member. Six horses wide on a trail doesn't leave much room for anyone else to use the trail, she added.

All about the habitat

More than the trail issue, Jan Fuchs, co-chair of the Carmel Valley Planning Board's regional issues subcommittee, said the board is most concerned about the protection of the bordering habitat.

"What we're about is the habitat - public access comes next, " Fuchs said. "This wetland needs to be buffered."

Equestrian uses that close to the riverbed have eroded the river bank and narrowed the river channel, she said, which has resulted in a loss of buffer as well as the introduction of non-native species.

Collins maintains that shrinking the trail will help restore the area. He said in spots where they have discontinued discing and use, the vegetation has been steadily coming back.

   
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