Friday, January 27, 2006

Specialized Shindig: Announcing IMBA California

Specialized held a party at it's Morgan Hill headquarters to welcome the East and West IMBA trail care crews who will be leading trail work at Henry Coe this weekend. Specialized provided beer, pizza, T-shirts and water bottles. It was a good opportunity to meet and socialize with local advocates.

Ariadne Delon Scott - Specialized's advocacy director, gave a brief presentation on the history of the companies advocacy efforts. Did you know that there is a forest in Japan named after Specialized? Now you do. Ariadne made a stunning announcement that Specialized is underwriting IMBA California with it's first full time staffer Tom Ward.

Tom was the manager of recreation for California State Parks but retired last year. He is an avid mountian bikers and has been a champion of mountain bike access and advocacy efforts. He was in government for over 30 years and is in a great position to navigate though the bureacratic red tape which prevents access to public lands for mountain bikers. Among his projects will be working with the US Forest Service to allow mountain bikes in California wilderness areas.

Ariadne presented Tom with a new 2006 S-works Stumpjumper FSR. Tom was genuinely surprised. I took a nice close look at this bike and it's a really sweet ride. Specialized knows how to take care of thier boy.

Mountain biking and IMBA started in California. This state also has the most IMBA members, excellent riding, the best weather and lots of bike companies. We also have a lot of land access issues. It's great to have IMBA representation for California and I'm looking forward to working with Tom to open more trails in Santa Cruz county.

This is a very good development for mountain biking in California.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Environmental Survey on "Star Wars"

An intern named Iris is doing a study on mountain biking on the Campus Natural Reserve. She has been stopping and interviewing riders as they rode though the Upper Moore Creek (a.k.a Star Wars) trail. She interviewed a friend of mine...

She mentioned that they are considering an interpretive trail through Star Wars. She asked if bikers would stay on the trail if it was routed out of the "creek" bed. My friend mentioning the fact that it is only a creek when it rains and the runoff from parking lots and streets are also flowing into it. Bikers would stay on the trail if they made it fun but currently, it is still appropriate for bikers, horses and hikers.

It was mentioned to her the numerous studies that support our position that hikers and bikers cause similar amounts of damage and it is a qualitative difference that, due to the numbers of bikers on the trails, often gets biased against us. MBOSC has offered to help with constructing any trails on campus that would be open to bikers, and equestrians including a re-route of Seven Springs. As an example, MBOSC had success with the Uconn trail and it has held up with essentially no maintenance and the illegal campsites and bootleg running trails that used to be in that area are no longer there.

It is our opinion that the UC should use the "reserve" as a research tool to study urban trail design and use for all users. UC should not continue with the status quo that "hikers and their trail damage are okay but others are not" without providing any scientific basis for that position. People have been riding, running, and hiking on that trail far longer than it has been a reserve and that they will continue to ride it since they don't have any better access to the upper campus. In fact, I wonder if she was aware that there is a sewer main buried down the middle of that canyon, and that the Rec department put the "par course" down it decades ago, thereby establishing it as a recreational and fitness route for the campus community.

She seems to be the typical environmental intern with preconceived ideas that mountain biking damages trails (hint: it's actually the water) but she was still interested in getting our perspective. She admitted that she hikes and doesn't enjoy sports involving speed so I doubt if she will ever relate to why we love riding so much.

We don't expect much from this. It is interesting that the CNR is looking for changes to improve the situation. Maybe they'll actually do something that doesn't try to shut us out!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

MBOSC Meeting: Gray Whale Status

On Wed Jan 11, 2006 we had a meeting with Kirk Lingenfelter (Sector Superintendent, Pajaro Coast Sector, CA State Parks) and Joseph Connors (Supervising Ranger, Wilder Ranch, CA SP). The topic of discussion was about opening the Gray Whale trails for public use.

Here are the minute from the meeting and a presentation of the current issues. Fact checking is welcome.


Daryl, Mark, Kirk, Joseph, Rich, Noel, Elayna, Harvey

Gray Whale Status

The Gray Whale trails issue causes grief when ever it's presented internally to a State Parks (SP) official. The file is so large, the issues are so complicated and its difficult to find a champion for this cause within SP.

Kirk and Joe had a meeting with Victor Roth (Staff Park and Recreation Specialist) and Chris Spohrer (Resource Ecologist) concerning the Gray Whale trails issue. Items for discussion included: where they left it, what they know and what are the current issues.

The process to open the trails stopped at the end of 2001. State Parks submitted the trail proposal to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) . The CCC issued a response to SP - who have yet to respond. More details about the proposal and response can be read in a different post.

The biggest concern is the requirements from California Coastal Commission (CCC, State) which were driven by Fish and Game (F&G, State) and Fish and Wildlife (F&W, Fed) concerns over the listed and endangered species in Gray Whale. These concerns are the basis for the 100 Ft biotic studies request from the CCC. Satisfying 3 government agencies is a tall order for a resource constrained organization like CA State Parks.

The public works project plan (PWP) which was submitted predicated a general plan (GP). There is no general plan for Gray Whale but if there was then the process to open the trails would be easier. A GP is quite an expensive and time consuming affair. A very rough estimate could be about $500K and two years. Also, the plan would have to run the gauntlet of a public process and we know there is a lot of opposition to opening the trails.

After talking with some other people who are familiar with trail plans, 100 Ft biotic studies are not unreasonable. However, 100 Ft studies are new to the North Sector Santa Cruz area. There were some studies done around the time of the Gray Whale acquisition but they were incomplete and were only done to 50 Ft.

The bottom line is that there are seemingly insurmountable hurdles in opening up these trails. State Parks doesn't have the stamina or the resources to open these trails. I don't blame them. The biotic studies requirement would be very expensive to complete and there is a lot of local opposition to opening them from hard core wilderness advocates and environmentalists. The Nisene Marks suit demonstrated that.

State Parks can better utilize their scarce resources to projects which add a lot of value and can demonstrate results. The Gray Whale trails project would require a lot of additional resources a and a champion to drive it internally. After that level of commitment, there is still no guarantee that the trails will be opened.

On a Happier Note

Meeting with State Parks demonstrated the good will shared between MBOSC and CA State Parks. This reengagement will lead to a productive and mutually beneficial relationship. State Parks are willing to help open new trails in Wilder Ranch. There are also some oportunities for creating new alignments to improve existing trails in Nisene Marks.

MBOSC and California State Parks are committed to cooperative efforts to promote mountain biking at Santa Cruz area State Parks, as well as educating all trail user groups on trail etiquette and sustainable use via special events (Take a Kid MTBing Day, Carrot Fest, a possible spring event, etc) and volunteer trail work.

Kirk and Joe would like to thank all trail working volunteers. There are 252 miles of trail in Santa Cruz county that has to be maintained by SP. All the trail work in Wilder Ranch and Nisene has been maintained by volunteers so it's not a burden on SP resources.

Future Directions

All is not lost. The barriers are pretty high to open the trails but not impossible.

SP needs resources (money) to move forward. They got whacked in the last State budget. Perhaps a seed of $100K can pay for a part time resource ecologist position to catalog and address the requirements from CCC, et al. Perhaps some money from a government grant or private donors can help pay to get tha general plan started for Gray Whale. Funding for the Nisene Marks general plan was seeded by donation.

The good news is that the resource department was active in the Wilder/Gray Whale area over the past several years. They have a database of activity and species which may be used as a basis for future studies.

Mountain biking is still perceived as "evil" from the environmental community. This tends to bite us in the public review process in which angry hikers attack mountain bikers as a group for anecdotal incidents of user conflict and the perception of trashing the environment. As mountain bikers, we know that we are environmentally aware and concerned. We really do have the same values as other environmental groups like the Sierra Club. As a user group we need to alter the public perception of our sport to illustrate our environmental credentials.

The lack of progress in Gray Whale doesn't mean that SP doesn't want to open trails. There may be opportunities for opening new trails in Wilder Ranch and Nisene Marks. We should consider trying to re-open Deja Vu - which is a nice single track diversion off Eucalyptus Loop. Deja Vu was closed around 2000.

Recently, a new "Fire Break" was created near Deja Vu from Eucalyptus Loop to Long Meadow. The decision to open this Fire Break was necessary and permitted outside the normal works project approval process, due to exigent circumstances that came up during the last controlled burn (fire fighter safety and control of an unplanned flare up). State Parks are interested in trying to reopen the portion of Deja Vu that does not cross into Gray Whale.

Perhaps private citizens should bound together to lobby CCC, F&G, F&W and try to get clarity, resources and lowering the requirements for opening the Gray Whale trails. This shouldn't be limited to mountain bikers. All users who have a vested interest in opening the trails should consider lobbying these organizations for access.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What Happened to the Gray Whale Trails Process?

The readers digest summary...

For those of you who need a history lesson, there were a number of trails which were recommended to be opened by the Gray Whale Advisory Committee (GWAC) - a group of concerned trail users and stake holders. GWAC included MBOSC and the Santa Cruz Horseman's Assoc some environmental and native species groups, etc....

The great thing about GWAC was that a consensus between these disparate groups was actually reached. Some of the trails that were recommended to be opened include:

1. Wally World; from top of Long Meadow to Cave Gulch
2. Holiday Trail; from Chinquapin Trail to bottom of Woodcutters Trail
3. Picnic Loop; from Chinquapin Trail to Holiday Trail
4. Deja Vu Connector; From Eucalyptus Trail to Long Meadow
5. Majors Creek Vista; a short trail off of Woodcutters to a nice view
6. UCSC Connector; from top of Englesman Trail to the University property across from the Arboretum.

The proposal to open the trails was submitted to the California Coastal Commission back in 2001 and the CCC came up with a reply which was never implemented:

1. 11x17 Base map
2. Habital Assessment and Management:
- all biological resources within 100 ft of any Gray Whale trails
- For any resources identified, trail impact analysis
3. Trail classification
4. Trail monitoring and management program
5. Summary of Public Input
6. Revised Gray Whale Ranch Public Works Plan
7. Santa Cruz County Co-ordination
8. PWP Project Request

Out of all the requirements, #2 was the difficult part.

By the time the CCC letter came out, State Parks went though re-orgs and budget cutbacks. Requirement #2 became an unsurmountable hurdle to open the trails. The momentum to open the trails was lost and many MBOSC members who worked so hard on this issue burned out.