Carmel Valley resident Mark Friedman spent New Year's Day taking a hike with his wife and dog in the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. In an hour and a half, they ran into one jogger and two bikers enjoying the trails.
So much for the "hordes" of users Friedman keeps hearing about as arguments why the preserve should be closed to all.
The city is currently developing a new trail plan for the mesa that could involve closing a popular system of trails due to their proximity to environmentally sensitive habitat.
The closure of trails would be a big letdown for Friedman.
"It would be like if they closed Balboa Park," Friedman said. "If people can't get out there to appreciate it, how will they care about preserving it? What's the sense of having it if people can't appreciate it?"
The Los Penasquitos Canyon Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) was scheduled to hear the city's new trail plan at their Jan. 15 meeting but the city's plan is not yet ready, according to Chris Zirkle, the director of the open space division of San Diego Parks and Recreation.
"We're still soliciting input from our resource agencies," Zirkle said, referring to the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who both own portions of the preserve.
The CAC is dark in February, so the city is now aiming for March 19 to unveil the new plans, which could mean closing the area entirely to recreation or streamlining the multitude of trails into a less-impactful system.
Tunnels a highlight
Friedman, who has been a Carmel Valley resident since 1967, has always enjoyed hiking in the preserve but only discovered the "tunnels" in June of last year.
"They're unique," Friedman said. "I don't think there's anything like them in Southern California."
The popular Deer Canyon tunnels are deep in the canyon, which is accessible off Camino Del Sur. Users must travel down a steep hill into the canyon. At the bottom, it is isolated and quiet, safe from the whirr of traffic on Highway 56 above.
The tunnels are a system of single-track paths shaded by trees. Trail aficionados have named the tunnels "One" through "Three" - Tunnel Three is also called "Rocking Horse Tunnel," named for the rocking horse toy left up in the branches.
The rocking horse is just one of many remnants left over from a migrant worker community that made the canyons their home for several years.
The San Diego Mountain Bike Club has been active in clearing out the area but still garbage remains. Friedman described how decaying tarps, rusted tin cans and wood from makeshift huts still litter the preserve.
New to the mesa are more signposts, alerting users that they are on preserved land and warning about prohibited uses. Two have been placed in the tunnels, Friedman said.