Plan for trail system still on hold

It was a year ago that mountain bikers and trail users crowded a room at the Black Mountain Ranch Recreation Center protesting the closure of a popular but illegal system of trails through the Del Mar Mesa Preserve. A year later, a new trail system plan has still not been released.

Chris Zirkle of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department said it was expected first in December 2008, then January 2009, then spring and now he has “no idea.”

The city continues to wait on the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the acceptable number of trails that could be allowed on the sensitive habitat - home to vernal pools, native plant and animal species.

Zirkle said they are also waiting to find out whether Fish and Wildlife will allow any trails at all to cross through its refuge.

The preserve area is about 400 acres, some of it owned privately and some city-owned. The state Fish and Game department owns 81 acres, and the federal agency owns 56 acres.

Whenever the plan is released, a comment period will follow. The Citizens Advisory Committee will weigh in on the plan with the Carmel Valley and Del Mar Mesa Community Planning Boards, and San Diego City Council having the final say.

“My directive is to get as many trails as the resource agencies will allow,” Zirkle said.

Zirkle encouraged anyone who has an opinion on the trail system to contact those agencies directly.

In one proposed trail system plan, some trails could open immediately and others would open in a second phase. The “tunnel 4" trails would be deleted in this plan.

Advisory council member Erik Basil said he wondered about the reasoning behind closing the narrow “tunnel 4" trail in favor of the duplicate SDG&E trail, which is steep, wide and has vernal pools all over it.

“Narrow trails are preferable to large trails,” Basil said, reiterating a point that has been made frequently by mountain bikers.

Ron Mikuteit, the board representative from the San Diego Mountain Bike Association, said he worried about opening trails in phases.

“There are going to be problems of connectivity right off the bat,” Mikuteit said.

As complaints have been made about lights in the canyon at dark and about new trails being forged in other undisturbed areas of the preserve, board member Anne Harvey said that people need to remember to be responsible users of the area.

Zirkle agreed.

“We have a better opportunity to get more trails if we show the agencies we can manage our areas,” Zirkle said.