The City of San Diego closed trails in the East Elliot section of Mission Trails Regional Park.

San Diego mountain bikers are planning a mass ride January 11 to raise awareness of recent closures by city park officials of the East Elliot trail system north of Mission Trails Regional Park.

The trails, north across Route 52 from the main portion of the park, were closed by the City of San Diego in response to concerns by federal and state wildlife officials that use of the unauthorized trail network was causing damage to the local ecosystem. The trails system, which includes Spring and Oak canyons, is popular among mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians.

“The purpose of the ride is to make the public aware of the trail closures that are taking place around San Diego County, and to educate them on the details of what we know to date,” said mountain biker Doug Johnson, one of the organizers of the mass ride. “We also want to encourage our elected officials and city representatives to work with the cycling community to provide the type of trails and skill parks needed. We would like the public’s support in putting pressure on city and state officials to act now, rather then 10 or 20 years from now.”

The bikers plan to start their ride at the Mission Trails Park information center, go down the street past the Old Mission Dam, and loop around through the grasslands and back to the information center. The group will begin preparations at 9 a.m. and start the “parade” at 10 a.m. The event will wrap up around 1 p.m. Johnson said it’s difficult to predict the turn out, but he estimated that at least 400 people will participate. All trail users are welcome to participate,  including mountain bikers, trail runners and BMXers, according to the organizers.

Mission Trails Closure
San Diego City park officials have closed a popular network of trails in Mission Trails Regional Park.

The trail closures came after a US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFW) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) site visit in June 2013, which revealed a considerable amount of unauthorized building and use of trails that impact highly sensitive and endangered species. The visit by the wildlife officials was part of the city’s ongoing process of establishing a management plan for the park, which is required by law and a prerequisite for the inclusion of the East Elliot area into Mission Trails park.

In an August letter sent to the city by wildlife officials after the visit, they said the city should close the unauthorized trails until a plan was developed to “successfully restore” them and the city provides enough staffing to monitor the trails and enforce the regulation.

In response to the wildlife agencies’ concerns, city park officials installed signs indicating that biking on the trails is prohibited and roping off popular trail heads. The city’s stance is that they aren’t closing the trails because they trails were constructed illegally and therefore never open in the first place.

“As with any other acts of vandalism in parks, the response is to restore the damaged assets,” park officials wrote in a statement posted on the park website. “In this case, restoration requires the re-establishment of native vegetation, which in turn requires the cessation of impacts caused by repeated use. There is a process in place to create legitimate trails and that process is underway via an update to the Mission Trails Regional Park Plan. This update would incorporate the East Elliott area into Mission Trails Regional Park and revise the entire Trails Plan for the park.”

Park officials say they are working on a management plan for the area and on establishing wildlife and plant friendly trails in the area, but the mountain bikers say the park service needs to pay more heed to the recreational uses of the area.

The San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA) has had several meetings with park officials regarding the trail closures, but have been unable to dissuade them from the blanket closure of the East Elliot trails. A statement on the SDMBA website says the biker’s association “adamantly opposes the current plan to close off all recreational access to trails.”

“We will work diligently with the City and the Wildlife Agencies to support a better alternative plan,” the statement says. “Trail closures rarely work as intended, often resulting in negative consequences such as unauthorized trail building and use in previously unaffected areas.”

Robert Craddick, a San Diego resident whose been riding in the area for seven years, said the East Elliot trails provide a “wonderful mid-level mountain biking challenge and good area to practice for cross country racing.”

“The trails give riders, runners, and hikers what we want,” he said, “being a minimal impacting small single-track trail and ability to be out in what feels like nature versus a park pathway or dirt road. The area felt free and open to explore except for the last couple years when Miramar signage went up and now trail closed signs. The abrupt nature of closures feels an imposition.”