by Ethan Stewart
More than 300 people packed into the David Gebhard room at the City’s Community Development building last week as the longstanding public debate regarding hiking trail access in Santa Barbara’s front country was renewed with a vengeance. The Thursday evening joint meeting included representatives of the City’s parks and recreation commission, the County parks commission, and the United States Forest Service — as well as nearly three hours of heated public testimony. The main instigation for the meeting was a recent incident on Cold Springs Trail, in which a horse fell to its death after mountain bikers passed by.
The ad hoc Front Country Trail Working Group (FCTWG) — which has been working for the past two years to develop a comprehensive usage plan for the trails — proposed a controversial “odd/even” plan to regulate bike use. The pilot program — which would govern Rattlesnake Canyon, the west fork of Cold Springs, San Ysidro, Jesusita, Romero Canyon, and Hot Springs trails — would limit bike riding to either odd or even days of the month. The FCTWG also recommended developing new signs, universal trail etiquette, and a “trail host” program that would oversee the new rules. Off-road bicycle enthusiasts — who represented the majority of the crowd — mostly expressed support for all aspects of the plan except for the “odd/even” stipulation, which they argued wouldn’t improve safety and would unfairly restrict bikers. The issue will be revisited at public hearings later this spring.