Last week, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board approved the San Diego Polo Club’s plans to vacate a public trail and build a new polo pony exercise path on the back of its property. Some members of the board had concerns about the city’s request to leave a multiuse trail at 12 feet wide, considering equestrians will share the path with cyclists. Ultimately, a board’s motion to request that the trail be widened to 20 feet failed 8-3.
For at least 20 years, the Polo Club has used the public trail that runs along its property to exercise polo ponies, said Chris Collins, club president. Since 2005, the San Dieguito River Park Joint-Powers Authority and the city have fought the club on this use, arguing it should be open to public use and that it serves as an important link in the 55-mile Coast to Crest Trail.
In July, the Polo Club submitted a new plan to the city that involved it vacating the public trail and building a separate exercise path for their ponies.
Its plan includes restoring 2.9 acres of wetland with native vegetation and leaving a remaining 12-foot trail along the riverbed. Currently, the trail varies in length from 35 to 50 feet.
The new trail will be composed of recompacted dirt and the JPA will take over maintenance duties, Collins said.
Board member Allen Kashani said that from his perspective as a mountain biker, 12 feet is a perfect width if not too wide.
“The general opinion of mountain bikers is the narrower the trail, the more enjoyable the ride,” Kashani said, noting it gets them closer to nature.
Collins said the Polo Club had suggested that the trail be 20 feet wide for safety purposes but the city settled on 12 feet. The standard width of the Coast to Crest Trail is set at 12 feet, as much of it goes through very sensitive areas, board member Anne Harvey said.
“That’s an awfully tight space for a multiuse trail,” said board member Christian Clews, citing conflicts that often occur between horseback riders and cyclists.
To make the trail wider, Harvey pointed out, would require losing some of the wetlands restoration as the Polo Club does not have room to widen it onto its property.
Board member Manjeet Ranu said that no matter how well you design a trail, it’s up to the users to exercise good etiquette. Ranu said that more work needs to be done to ensure multiuse trails work.
“Horses are like the sailboats of the harbor, everyone yields to sailboats and that’s exactly how you should treat horses on a trail,” Harvey said.
Harvey said if a horse gets upset by an approaching cyclist, the cyclist should get off their bike, speak quietly and follow the instructions of the rider. Using improper trail etiquette can result in serious injuries, Harvey said.