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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | santa cruz county


City fast-tracking new trail on Pogonip
Will there be a serious consideration of alternatives?

August 2010

In late July after only two weeks of limited public notice, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approved spending $25,000 to study a new single-track multi-use trail in the Pogonip, a 640-acre greenbelt between UCSC and Highway 9. City parks staff were instructed to return to the Council in November with a design and environmental study.

Marine Sanctuary CenterThe maroon line depicts the route of the proposed trail. The orange line is Highway 9. Between them is the rail line up to Felton.
Map courtesy of City of Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation Department

The proposed 1.5-mile trail would extend from Golf Club Drive, just within the Pogonip boundary, north to the U-Con trail. Park staff, city fire and police officers, and residents in favor of the new trail contend that the proposed trail would alleviate the drug and trash problem on the Pogonip. There is no evidence that such a trail would either reduce or drive out drug dealing or illegal camping on the Pogonip, both of which are long-standing problems in the city not confined to this greenbelt property.

The presence of bicyclists and pedestrians along the San Lorenzo River levee has not stopped illegal activity there. The possibility of linking the levee trail to the Pogonip may actually increase access for illegal activities in Pogonip, not decrease such activity as some claim. Indeed, since the Pogonip is closed at night when much covert activity occurs, a new trail might facilitate nighttime use.

Construction of a new multi-use trail on the Pogonip would require amendment of the Pogonip Master Plan, which was adopted in 1998 after extensive debate and community input about trail users. At that time, trail use on the Pogonip was limited to pedestrians with the exception of the U-Con Trail and the Lower Rincon Trail which are open to bicycles and horses.

The Sierra Club opposes the proposed trail even though the Club agrees that mountain biking is a legitimate form of recreation and transportation on trails when it is practiced in an environmentally sound and socially responsible manner. The Club national policy concerning off road use of bicycles does not give a blanket endorsement to mountain biking on all trails. The policy notes concerns including “soil erosion, impacts on plants and animals, displacement of other trail users, and impacts on other users’ safety and enjoyment.”

In 1998 nearly 600 people signed a Sierra Club petition opposing bicycle use on Pogonip. The Club endorsed the compromise U-Con connector trail, but agreed with the adopted Pogonip Master Plan that the remainder of the Pogonip would be closed to bikes to provide hikers with the serenity and natural beauty noted in the vision statement for the Pogonip.

Hikers on single-track trails used by bicyclists are often faced with sudden encounters with bikes moving as much as 10 times faster than many hikers. This situation is especially frightening for older hikers and parents of young children. As a result, when narrow trails are opened to mountain bikers, many hikers are displaced and no longer use trails where they cannot relax and enjoy the natural environment without feeling in danger of being hit by a speeding bicyclist.

In the Forest of Nisene Marks before bicyclists were banned from the upper trails, many bicyclists caused serious erosion; some carved illegal segments in steep, erosion-prone areas. From the upper UCSC campus, steep, illegal bike trails such as the “Lock-em-up” or “Dead Camper” trails from UCSC to Highway 9 demonstrate there is lax enforcement. During winter rains, steep ruts become small streams which carry sediment into creek beds damaging steelhead habitat.

There are many questions regarding this proposed new trail.

• Would such a trail really have a positive impact on the drug/camping problem?
• Would the trail provide easier access for illegal activities?
• What would this new trail cost including associated expenses such as parking spaces and improvements to Golf Club Drive?
• Will the environmental study consider alternative routes for a bike connection?
• Will the environmental study consider the impact that will likely occur as bikes spread illegally to all other hiking trails if the new trail is built?
• Would poor visibility in the forest on a narrow trail create dangerous hiker/bicyclist conflicts?
• If trail users reported suspicious activity, what would be the response time of police and emergency personnel? Is there cell phone reception throughout the area?
• Are there more effective ways to deal with drug problems on the Pogonip?

How to help

If you would like to help protect the Pogonip, contact Celia or Peter Scott, 429-6166, . If you are able to participate in future clean-up events on the Pogonip, please let them know.

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