Marine strike on bikers

"We've let people know, we put signs out there, and we've had patrols."

U.S. Marine Corps military police confiscated 53 bicycles and 3 motorcycles riding on trails on the east end of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar over last weekend, Lt. Matthew Gregory confirmed on Tuesday, January 19.

While the wheels are impounded as evidence until the citations are resolved, they will be returned if the judge okays it, Gregory said.

Miramar has long been warning hikers, bikers, and off-road enthusiasts that the base’s land is not for their fun. The Marines met with the San Diego Mountain Bike Association in July of last year and warned that enforcement would scale up to citations and bikes being impounded.

"I feel like we've done our due diligence," Gregory said. "We've let people know, we put signs out there, and we've had patrols warning people to stay off our base. It's a security issue for us, and a safety issue for them."

Mountain-bike association president Kevin Loomis confirmed the meetings, warning, and property seizures over the weekend.

"We feel horrible about what is happening, but the Marines have told us this would happen," he wrote. "Our military is at a heightened security alert for obvious reasons and must ensure the base is secure."

The 23,116-acre base, bisected by I-15, reaches far east into Santee and north to Poway on the east side of the 15. The southeast edge abuts Mission Trails Open Space, a popular mountain-biking spot.

The Marines grew concerned about outdoor enthusiasts popping up at the east end of a live-ammunition training range over the summer — appearances that shut down training completely until the area was deemed cleared.

"People don't understand how far a live round can travel," Gregory said. "They go thousands of yards and we need a robust area to be sure no one gets hurt."

Gregory has heard complaints that there should be fences in addition to the signs the Marines have placed. That would trigger a huge environmental disruption, he said.

"We put the signs out there — Marines tell me they've watched people gleefully ride right past them," he said. "There is a line. It's for their safety."

According to Loomis, enforcement is ongoing at two popular biking areas: the East Elliot area — a former Marine base that includes Sycamore Canyon — and an area by Santee Lakes known as the Mast Medina trail.

"We have met with the mountain-bike association and they are looking at other options that don't involve east Miramar," Gregory said. "They are looking for solutions and we respect their efforts and appreciate that they recognize our concerns. We've seen their efforts to get the word out to their members."

The association's county liaison, Ben Stone, says there is a solution — and it is not trespassing on Marine Corps land. The association has mapped a route around the base, and they've been meeting with the people who are developing the land and the county parks department. Stone says most people are receptive to the proposed trail. In the meantime, Stone says, stay off military land.

"The fact that people have been riding the trails for 20+ years does not change the fact that they exist on private land, military land and county land," Stone wrote on the association blog on January 18. "Sycamore Canyon is not part of Mission Trails."

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I've hiked the section of this area that lies west of Mission Trails Park, all the way to the military warning signs. They were at least a mile and a half in. At that point, using good binoculars I could see I was downwind from a shooting range and got off the high ground pronto. There were always a few mountain bikers on the trails and because of the extreme hills and valleys, I could see why--it was a great ride. I think Mission Trails bears some responsibility here for allowing their trails to lead right to those that enter the military land, with no signage letting people know they were crossing a border of sorts. I used to go in there because it was the only place that I knew of, other than the Anza Borrego desert, where horned lizards could be found (and photographed). The military owns miles of land north of the 52. I think they should move their shooting range over there and open these trails to the public.

Maybe all the folks that are unhappy with the Marines could get that right wing group from Colorado to come help them as things seem to be wrapping up in Colorado.

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