Marin land managers seek to curb illegal trail building

  • Hikers walk along the Willow Camp Fire Road on Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • Jamie Cosgriff of Marin County Parks does maintenance on the...

    Jamie Cosgriff of Marin County Parks performs maintenance on the Waterfall Trail at the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • The Azalea Hill trail above Fairfax.  (Marine Independent Journal File...

    The Azalea Hill trail above Fairfax. (File photo from the Marin Independent Journal)

  • Erick Morales of Marin County Parks maintains the...

    Erick Morales of Marin County Parks performs maintenance on the Waterfall Trail at the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

  • David Frazier, chief trail builder for Marin County Parks, walks...

    David Frazier, chief trail builder for Marin County Parks, walks along the waterfall trail in the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato Tuesday, August 23, 2022. Frazier and a team are conducting the maintenance of part of the trail. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

When Marin County park rangers came out this summer to investigate a report of an illegally constructed trail on the Bald Hill Reservation near San Anselmo, they got a surprise: the scofflaw — complete with a set of hand tools and a shovel – caught in the act.

“It’s definitely not something that happens every day,” said Dan Sauter, chief ranger for Marin County Parks and Open Spaces.

Hundreds of miles of unauthorized trails can be found in Marin County’s vast expanses of green space and parkland, whether created intentionally by tools or by years of hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. beaten paths. Although seemingly harmless, these unplanned trails can have real consequences for the landscape, Indigenous artifacts, wildlife and nearby residents, said Jon Campo, Marin County Parks Planner.

“A pathway above someone’s house can start channeling water and eventually cause a landslide,” Campo said. “Most people think it’s no big deal, but it can actually impact the earth.”

Park officials say incidents like the one at Bald Hill in late July have become less common in recent years after the county created a new framework in 2016 to better guide its trail construction efforts and use. Part of that success, Campo said, is due to increased public awareness among a variety of trail users across Marin.

“Before 2016, I would say we had a real problem with trails built and developed by the public,” Campo said. “But since 2016, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in illegal trail construction, primarily because I think we have this avenue for the community to engage with our planning staff, to prioritize more potential trail projects. .”

Part of the work also includes upgrading or removing legacy trails that were historically constructed as logging ranch roads, fire and emergency access roads, utility access, and informal trails formed from repeated use.

Similar trail planning efforts have also taken place in recent years among Marin’s other major public land managers.

A new management plan adopted by the Point Reyes National Seashore last year calls for the creation and connection of trails through private ranches that lease land from the National Park Service. The Marin Municipal Water District is also drafting a recreation plan for the 22,000-acre Mount Tamalpais watershed, with a controversial proposal to allow cyclists access to other trails beyond the roads. of firefighters.

A man jogs on a path near Lake Phoenix in Ross on Feb. 26, 2022. (Douglas Zimmerman/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)
A man jogs on a path near Lake Phoenix in the Mount Tamalpais watershed in Ross on Feb. 26, 2022. (Douglas Zimmerman/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)

Marin County Parks and Open Spaces currently maintains about 75 miles of designated trails, an increase of nearly 20% since adding 12 new miles of trails in the last six years alone, Campo said. This includes completing Marin County Parks’ largest trail project since its inception 50 years ago with the construction of the 3-mile Ponti Ridge Trail near Marinwood, which can be used by mountain bikers and hikers.

This trail building spurt came after the county adopted a new plan in 2016 that essentially serves as a blueprint for the next 15 years of trail work, environmental restoration, and decision-making about where to go. whether or not trails are open to cyclists or horse riders.

Nona Dennis, a member of the Marin Conservation League, said the county has been paying more attention to mountain bikers in recent years, saying the Ponti Ridge Trail is more of a mountain bike trail accessible to hikers.

“They listened to mountain bikers throughout the process, environmentalists, walkers, and did things that are really designed to add miles for mountain biking and improve some trails,” Dennis said.

The Marin Municipal Water District is also considering the possibility of opening bicycle access, including e-bikes, to certain trails in the Mount Tamalpais watershed. The consideration is part of a larger watershed recreation plan the district is looking to complete next year, said district watershed resource manager Shaun Horne.

Tom Boss, director of off-roading and events for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, said Marin land managers have evolved to listen to feedback from mountain bikers.

“It’s going nowhere and so they recognize there’s a need to bring more balance to our trail systems so riders can get some of the experiences they want,” Boss said.

Illegal works on the trails have still taken place in recent years. County park rangers have recorded at least 20 people caught with trail-building tools in a park since 2016, which is a misdemeanor that could result in a $100 fine, with court costs raising that to around $500. , Sauter said.

Marin Conservation League board member Larry Minikes said that while the few people who bring tools and make new trails can often be cyclists cutting new trails, hikers and other trail users can cause similar damage just by straying off the path.

“When traversing pristine habitat, whether by cyclist or hiker, these activities run the very real risk of harming rare local native species and disrupting natural wildlife activity patterns and introducing invasive species,” Minikes said.

These unauthorized trails created after years of use are called social trails. County parks staff have worked to reduce these social trails from a total of 94 miles to 78 miles.

Since social trails can become popular, part of the work being done on the trails is to improve and relocate some of the trails so they aren’t as harmful to the environment.

The Marin Municipal Water District is working on a multi-year project at Azalea Hill near Lake Bon Tempe to remove nearly 5 miles of unauthorized trails by realigning trails to better protect the environment and reduce erosion.

These projects require years of preparation, according to Horne, and include rare plant surveys, environmental studies and design work.

“Our goal is really to have sustainable trails and that takes proactive work,” Horne said.

Along with ongoing trail maintenance work such as that which took place at the Indian Valley Reservation this week, the county is also considering further trail improvements at Roy’s Redwoods in the San Geronimo Valley and at Terra Linda, Campo said.

“I’m just really proud of all the improvements we’ve made,” Campo said.

Jamie Cosgriff of Marin County Parks performs maintenance on the Waterfall Trail at the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Jamie Cosgriff of Marin County Parks performs maintenance on the Waterfall Trail at the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

About Ethel Partin

Check Also

130-mile Delta Bike Trail underway in four NELA parishes

VIDALIA, La. (KNOE) – A new bike path is coming to four parishes in northeast …