Hikers and Bikers to Rally in Protest at Recent San Diego Trail Closures

(San Diego, January 6, 2014) On Saturday, January 11, hundreds of trail users plan to gather at Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) in protest against a rash of recent trail closures across San Diego County. This will be the first such protest of its kind.

“We are fed up—America’s finest city is quickly becoming one of the worst places in the West to be a mountain biker,” said Dustin Sharp, a professor at the University of San Diego and avid cyclist who plans to attend the protest. “We need to stop closing trails and start building them instead.”

In late Fall, San Diego city officials closed down several trails popular with mountain bikers, trail runners, and hikers in an area north of Mission Trails Regional Park known as “East Elliot.” The area is slated to become part of MTRP in the coming years. Hikers and mountain bikers have used trails in the East Elliot area for decades.

Trail closures were carried out at the request of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), citing concerns about impact on native plants. The East Elliot trails are located on a former military bombing range that was ravaged by fire nearly 10 years ago, and are situated next door to the soon-to-expand Sycamore Landfill. City officials have threatened further trail closures and heavy fines if users do not cease using the trails in question.

According to the proposed Master Plan Update (MPU) for Mission Trails Regional Park, many of the user created trails in the East Elliot area are “well constructed narrow contour and single-track trails.” Under the proposed MPU, however, the majority of the East Elliot trails are to be closed at an unspecified point in the future and replaced with different, much wider trails required by San Diego city code, removing far more vegetation than the existing narrow trails.

“The reason cyclists have been riding in East Elliot all these years is dead simple,” said Sharp. “It is because the needs of cyclists have been wholly ignored within the main borders of Mission Trails Regional Park itself.”

What are referred to as “trails” within MTRP are generally 8 to 15-foot wide fireroads. Many of them are poorly constructed, moving up and down at grades higher than 20%, all highly susceptible to erosion. Citing the unacceptable quality of these roads and the near absence of genuine single-track trails open to bikes, many cyclists point to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on a recently constructed underutilized equestrian facility together with the eye-wateringly expensive reconstruction of the hiker-only West-side Cowles mountain trail as signs of discrimination.

The East Elliot closures follow on the heels of other trail closures across the county, several of them initiated by CDFW. At Los Penasquitos/Del Mar Mesa, officials have closed a once-treasured trail system known as “tunnels,” and the CDFW is now aggressively ticketing and confiscating bikes for riding trails that have been in existence for many years. In an area near Cuyamaca College, CDFW officials initiated the closure of a system of neighborhood hiking trails and BMX jumps. These come in addition to closures on the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge and a decision by the Marines at MCAS/Miramar to block access to the Stowe Trail, a 100-year old trail that links Santee to Sycamore/Goodan Ranch.

“All of us in San Diego County should be looking around to see whether our favorite trail will be next,” said Sharp. “At the rate we are going, there will be nowhere left to hike and cycle with our families and pets.”

According to recent studies, outdoor recreation is increasing in popularly. There has been a 16% increase in mountain bike sales and fully 21% of households in San Diego use a bike on a frequent basis. At a time when the nation is facing an obesity epidemic, these figures are welcome news. Unfortunately, they also come at a time when the number of trails appears to be shrinking year to year.

“Ultimately, this is about what kind of quality of life we are going to have as San Diegans,” said Minette Ozaki, San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA) board member and licensed massage therapist. “Access to the types of trails that are being closed is critical to physical and mental well being, yet the City is doing very little to provide alternatives.”

The City of San Diego funds tennis courts, swimming pools, skate parks, lakes to fish in, baseball fields, golf courses, basketball courts, and soccer fields, among other things. However, unlike many other cites across the U.S., there are no dedicated trails or bike parks for mountain or BMX bikes.

"Really, the City has done very little to promote San Diego as the cycling destination it could and should be,” said Don Sutton, a long-time researcher at the University of California San Diego and competitive cyclist. “It’s really unfortunate that rather than recognizing trails as a resource, the City seems hell-bent on closing them with no alternatives provided. When cyclist friends ask me whether to take a vacation here, I unfortunately have to tell them to look elsewhere to places that welcome mountain bike dollars.”

At the January 11 protest, trail users plan to ride some of the legal dirt roads within Mission Trails Regional Park en masse. Riders will gather at 9am with the ride to begin at 10am. It is hoped that the rally will send a message to local, state, and federal officials that mountain bikers want to work productively to make San Diego one of the finest cities for mountain biking, hiking, and trail running. The event is not being organized by any one group or person, but is intended as a spontaneous reaction to express distress at closures across the county.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” said Doug Johnson, lifetime San Diegan, owner of a construction management firm, and avid cyclist. “The fruitful cooperation between riders and federal, state, and local officials in places such as Big Bear, San Luis Obispo, and Tahoe is proof that things in San Diego can get better. As mountain bikers, we want to be working with managers of public lands, not against them.”

For more information relating to trail closures, please contact:

Doug Johnson, leadmoto@gmail.com
Mike MacGregor, Info@SDMBA.com
Dustin Sharp, paleo.velo@gmail.com