Trail lovers unite to fight closures


Trail closures are expected on several much-used mountain bike and hiking trails in the Carmel Mountain and Del Mar Mesa preserves as the city develops a new plan for these protected biological areas.

The Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve Citizens Advisory Committee held a workshop last week for trail users to give feedback to the city. Mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians are aiming to keep some trails open to the public.

Anne Harvey, a longtime Carmel Valley resident who actively worked to protect the preserves years ago, says she could understand trail users’ concerns - she herself is a hiker.

But some of the trails the users lament losing are illegal. They were never trails to begin with and every ride taken on them has been an act of trespassing, Harvey said.

“It disturbs me very much that this area is so degraded and that there’s such a level of disrespect,” said Lillian Justice, another longtime Carmel Valley resident. “If my grandmother were here she’d say ‘just shut it off, put up an electric fence and be done with it. Let the habitat recover.’”

The city of San Diego should release a final draft by late November and users have until Oct. 14 to submit comments for inclusion in the report.

Standing room only

The meeting room at Canyonside Recreation Center on Black Mountain Road last Thursday night was filled with people elbow-to-elbow, some wearing bike helmets. At least 150 people showed up, some waiting outside with their bikes, as they couldn’t squeeze into the room.

Two held signs above their heads reading “Public Access.”

Stories were shared of dads hiking with their children and meditative bike rides on the “tunnel trails,” shielded by a canopy of vegetation.

One mountain biker, Jeremy McGhee, sat in the back of the crowded room in his wheelchair, his service dog sitting at his side.

“The only way I keep sane is to be able to be out there,” said McGhee. “When I’m out there on my bike I’m healed. When I saw all those closures, that would change my life.”

Unmatched terrain

Cynthia McRondi, a fitness center manager at Intuit, located near the preserve, often takes employees out on the trail.

“It’s a terrain and trail like no other in San Diego,” McRondi said. “I ask that we keep trails open or hikers, riders and runners, it’s beautiful and is a great opportunity to reset your mental attitude.”

The San Diego Mountain Bike Association affirmed at the meeting that they do not wish to be law-breakers but rather stewards of the land.

The association, along with Eric Basil of the San Diego Multi-Use Trails Committee, proposed a limited, managed trail system that they hope would be considered by the city.

The system would close redundant and damaging trails and keep open low-impact trails that could be designated for separate user groups. For example, one trail would be for horse and hike and another one would be bike and hike.

The trails would remain to “meander organically,” as a single track - there were audible groans anytime anyone mentioned the possibility of a 20-foot wide trail.

Trail portions are government-owned

Camino Del Sur flanks the preserve in question on one side and Carmel Valley Road, where it meets Del Vino Court, on the other.

Part of the land in question is owned by the Department of Fish and Game, given to them by Caltrans as mitigation from work on Interstate 5 and Highway 52.

To protect the land, which is home to vernal pools, they put up fences as well as cement barricades. Neither has particularly worked, according to Jason Price from the Department of Fish and Game.

“It’s in the worst shape,” Price said.

Trail users have cut holes into the fences and cut off locks - damages costing up to $7,000 to repair. The amount of abuse and disregard is pushing Price to require law enforcement presence.

“This is designated ecological reserve land, not open space,” Price said. “The laws on the books say that it’s illegal to ride a bike on that property.”

There is only one way to designate trails through the property, by appealing to the California Fish and Game Commission, and it could take up two years to be approved.

Price was asking for complete compliance from equestrian and mountain bike users to stay off the property.

“It is not open for discussion,” Price said.

Jill Terp, the refuge manager of San Diego Wildlife Refuge, was representing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which own 50 acres in Del Mar Mesa. The land was acquired in the late 1990s, to supplement the Multiple Species Conservation Program.

San Diego was the first city in the country to implement the MSCP, which designates land to be protected for its conservation value, not to be used as a park or for recreation.

“We are concerned about the integrity of these lands,” Terp said. “We are not opposed to public use but we need to have appropriate, compatible public use.”

Terp said they want to work with users, not wanting to close all public access, but finding a reasonable solution.

To view the plan and submit comments, go to