Mountain-bikers don't want illegal trails either

Open-space protectors and riders do lap around compromise

Bikers riding Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve
  • Bikers riding Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve

The future of public access to the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve for the recreational set appears to be up in the air once again. After trails were closed last summer, an unofficial truce seemed to have been struck between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the San Diego Mountain Biking Association regarding bike access to the area.

In a letter dated August 24, 2017, that was posted on mtbr.com, mountain-biking association vice-president Ben Stone wrote: “Many of you are asking what is the status of enforcement on the property and although I cannot answer that question for you definitively, [California Department of Fish and Wildlife] has not enjoyed the increased scrutiny that was brought on them recently and has taken little action on the property since. The City of Carlsbad is also wary of stepping into the bees nest at [Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve] by using their new ranger program to provide enforcement for the State.”

More trails have recently been closed, though, and the fight to completely shut down access to all of the illegal trails appears to be picking up steam. Diane Nygaard was one of the founders of the Preserve Calavera organization. She has fought to protect the open-space at Carlsbad Highlands since 2000.

“Go back on Google Earth and look at what it looked like ten years ago to what it looks like today: 50 miles of illegal trails have been cut through that sensitive habitat. We’re not talking about a little bit of impact, we’re really talking about tremendous impact. You look at those aerial maps and you can see the vegetation might be 20 percent left of what was there. The extent of ground cover is dramatically reduced, so all of the biological resources have been greatly impacted,” she said.

Nygaard and Tim Dillingham (land program supervisor for California Department of Fish and Wildlife) both believe the compromise for the bikers who use the reserve is relocation. Their concept is to develop a nearby park or open-space area with bike-friendly trails. Some of the trails in Carlsbad Highlands recently shut down had features such as jumps, and Dillingham feels that the issues with the bikers now resembles the issues that skateboarders had in California before the second wave of skateparks hit the state.

“Skateboarders used to go out and they recreated on all the public areas and they damaged the stone benches and they damaged railings until we started doing the planning,” he explained. “Now the skateboarders go to the skateparks because it’s really what they wanted. It’s got all the features they want, and everyone lets them do it there because that’s what it was intended for.”

During our discussion, Nygaard proposed the El Corazon region of Oceanside as a prime spot for new mountain-biking trails. The land there was heavily degraded by sand mining for decades, so there would likely be no environmental issues to contend with at that location. Dillingham stated that there was some privately owned, open space adjacent to the ecological reserve that could potentially work, and Black Mountain Ranch Park, which is north of Highway 56 near I-15.

Of the latter, Dillingham said it’s “an active-use park that has baseball fields and whatnot and has trails that go out to an area that’s predominantly nonnative grasses, thistle, and tumbleweed. It’s not very pretty at the moment. It needs a lot of TLC. I was looking at it thinking, This is a perfect spot for mountain biking because, while I was out there for a walk, it seemed too mountainous.”

Besides the bikers, hikers who enjoy the park may have to contend with some drastic changes as well. For Nygaard, even keeping the two legal trails that run through the reserve (basically fire roads) open to hikers is up in the air. The reason for this is that they feed into all of the other illegal trails, most of which aren’t identified with any sort of signage. As a result, “the average person going out there has no way of knowing if you’re on a legal or an illegal trail,” Nygaard said.

Ben Stone pointed out that shutting down all the illegal trails would also cut off access to a popular volcano (Cerro de la Calavera) that locals enjoy hiking up to watch sunsets. According to Stone, there’s technically no legal routes to that spot either.

To illustrate that all hope was not lost regarding human access to the reserve, Nygaard stressed how the nearby Lake Calavera Preserve serves as a prime example of an area riddled with illegal trails that was corralled into something more legal and organized.

“There were numerous illegal trails all over Calavera, and new trails were being cut all the time. The city worked with numerous stakeholders in other preserves and worked really hard to cut off trails, allow some trails and to manage them in a way that the resources were really protected. There’s been a dramatic change,” she said.

A dramatic change likely lies in the future for the Carlsbad reserve as well. The big question is will the area continue to be experienced from within or enter a new era of being observed from afar?

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"Mountain-bikers don't want illegal trails"


I get really frustrated when neglect and inaction on the part of the CDFW gets projected onto people using the land. There are certainly far more "illegal trails" than necessary, but that is because there are no apparent legal trails. Right now it is a wild west of neglect out there -- nothing is marked, CDFW 'rangers' randomly throw up signs or put up dangerous obstacles on random trails, riders are angry, the CDFW is angry, and nothing good is coming of the situation.

This could be fixed so easily. Even the article says: "Nygaard stressed how the nearby Lake Calavera Preserve serves as a prime example of an area riddled with illegal trails that was corralled into something more legal and organized."

Exactly! So the logical conclusion is that the CDFW land should follow this model.

First, all parties need to agree that this public land needs to be accessible to the public in some form, both on feet and on bikes. It sits in the middle of a city of 113,000 people and growing. You can't prevent that many people from using this land -- no number of signs or fences around such a perimeter will protect the land. It is a miracle and a blessing that the land hasn't been developed, and we all want it to remain that way. I think history clearly shows us that having people use, enjoy, and care about a natural space is critical for that space's longevity. Open spaces need as many friends as they can gather.

Next, a small group of riders and reps from CDFW and Preserve Calavera need to sit down and come up with a small number of trails that (a) are least likely to negatively affect soils and habitats, (b) protect the areas of the land that are the most sensitive, and (c) offer riders a reasonable number of interesting and varied trails that connect together in a logical way and allow for longer rides to be formed. Yes, not everyone will be happy. Yes, some 'favorite trails' will close. But I think that is a much better situation than what we've got now.

Boards with these LEGAL trail maps then need to be posted at all entrances. Trails not on this list are then closed off with boundary signs. Legal trails then need to be marked at their starting points, and preferably named.

If funding issues are the reason for CDFW's seeming ongoing neglect of the land, then it should be put under the "CDFW Lands Pass" program, where they can raise a bit of money and use that money to manage the property properly.

Well said. Management by total a total closing of land that has been used by the public for decades is not ever going to work. Just 2 weeks ago I was chatting with a woman riding a horse out near the cement pad. This was shortly after the rain we had and the sheer weight of the horse was causing damage to the trails that were soft from the rain. To put ALL the blame on the MTB user group is a major fallacy. I have encountered people out on a stroll through the dry brush drinking wine and smoking cigars.... I am not joking. Major fire hazard and people out for a stroll walking around with hot embers dropping off their lit cigar. If Fish n Game does not want to manage the land, then they need to give up ownership of it to someone who will manage it. Closing it off and telling the users to be happy knowing there is a nature preserve there is never going to work.

Habitat exists to protect the wildlife, NOT to pleasure humans. Recreation should be the absolute minimum necessary. If you want to trash nature, buy some land and do it there - until you get arrested for violating the Endangered Species Act....

Sorry but Calavera has existed as a recreation, farming and mining area for nearly 100 years.

It has been well over 100 years since it was a "habitat".

Tough. That's no reason to prevent it from being habitat again.

It is a great reason as to why it should stay as an Park with recreation opportunities. No matter what Fish n Game does, people will go into Calavera and explore, on foot, on horse back or on bikes. Best to work with the existing trail user groups and make legit manged trails. Total closure has not worked in the past, it will never work.

It's your obligation to know the law. No, no one makes illegal trails due to lack of legal trails, just as most people don't rob banks just because they don't have enough money. Only CRIMINALS do. Apparently, most mountain bikers are criminals. They belong in jail, not running wild on public land harassing people and wildlife.

You do realize MTB's are only one part of a huuuge user group in Calavera that includes horseback riding, Dog walking, Trail running, gangs tagging large rusting metal tanks and old cement and wooden structures and local homeowners out for evening strolls while drinking wine and smoking Cigars....

All are things I have witnessed regularly in the last year.

“Go back on Google Earth and look at what it looked like ten years ago to what it looks like today: 50 miles of illegal trails have been cut through that sensitive habitat. We’re not talking about a little bit of impact, we’re really talking about tremendous impact. You look at those aerial maps and you can see the vegetation might be 20 percent left of what was there. The extent of ground cover is dramatically reduced, so all of the biological resources have been greatly impacted,” she said.

Ummmm no. This is very wrong. Go back 30 years ago and look at all the off-roading and dirt bikes using the area. Go back 50 years and look at all the Farming that used to be in the area, you can still see tons of left over Cement Pads, Piping and old structures from when the entire area was a big farm. In some places there is big rusting pipes. Go back 80 years and look at the Rock Quarry, with heavy machinery mining away rock from the Volcano. Calavera has not been "pristine" since before the area was originally settled hundreds of years ago. Trying to pretend that in the last 10 years a few trails(no where near 50 miles worth) has ruined some sort of pristine environment is a complete lie. Diane Nygaard is not being truthful with her comments.

For anyone to even imagine that the area is some sort of sensitive habitat is a joke. Everything in a 360 degree view has been bulldozed in the name of progress. No one called "sensitive habitat" back then. No one seemed to care that this supposed "sensitive habitat" was lost when the Sage Creek High School came in and bull dozed the homes of Coyotes, Rabbits, Mice and a few hiking and biking trails..... If there money for the City behind the destruction of open spaces, the city will allow it.

The coastal sage that permeates the Southern Coasts of California is one of the hardiest plants in existence. It can withstand drought very well and is difficult to kill. The animals that live in this area have co-existed with human presence for hundreds of years and their numbers have not diminished, but rather they have flourished. I ride my bike out there once a week and have done so for the last 10 years. I see wildlife in droves, the very wet season we had last winter has really helped to increase the population, there is a healthy and very large pack of Coyotes that live in one of the canyons. I regularly see snakes, rabbits, kangaroo mice, road runners, gnatcatchers, Red Tail Hawks and other wildlife on my weekly rides.

Frankly, the Habitat and trail systems would be just fine if Fish n Game just stepped aside and let SDMBA take over stewardship of the trail network.

That's the worst thing that could happen. Mountain bikers don't care about anything but shredding every nature area with their knobby tires. They obviously know nothing about conservation biology.

If you think Mountain Bikers don't care about anything but shredding every nature area, you know nothing about mountain bikers. The one day that Fish n Game approved a trail work day at Calavera a number of years ago, Hundreds of Mountain Bikers came out and worked side by side with the Game Warden. SDMBA was out there with a tent, water, etc. Very few if any other user groups came out to dig and move rocks. It was a great example of all the good Mountain Bikers can and will do to help create a multi-use trail system in the park.

I have just come to the realization that "mjvande" is Mike Vandeman.

Note this comment from the MTBR forums: "Hi Mjvande aka Mike. hope you are well. Mike is a well known American mountain bike hater, that spends his time regularly trolling any news about mountain bikers. If you google him you will find that according to the internet he has been arrested and tried in the US for attacking mountain bikers with saws. He has no idea of where this event took place or on what type of trail were ridden and has no understanding of UK access laws as apposed to US access law. Mike also has injunction preventing him from placing comments on many mountain bike forums and news posts in the US hence the reason he trolls Uk posts."


I would like to Suggest to the SD reader that his posts be carefully monitored as he is not from San Diego and thus has not local knowledge of Calavera, Carlsbad or other San Diego Trails.

While I'm not particularly fond of mountain bikes, hikers like myself can coexist with them. The particular area in question, not far from home, is not one of my favorite places to walk. The chalky soil in the area doesn't make for good walking, and it really isn't scenic IMHO. About twenty years ago a family member who attended Rancho Buena Vista High School was on the cross country team. Their coach had the kids train by running in that Calavera Hills area back then, before the barriers went up and some trails were closed. I have no idea if that team still runs there.

I too enjoy hiking and because this area is so close to home my family will hike here on occasion. The worst part of hiking there is the off-leash dogs, not the interactions with cyclist.

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