Both equestrian use such as shown here at San Marcos Preserve as well as mountain biking would be banned in the final Management Plan for the area.

Ray Ford

Both equestrian use such as shown here at San Marcos Preserve as well as mountain biking would be banned in the final Management Plan for the area.

San Marcos Preserve Land Management Plan Finalized

Plan Would Prohibit Biking or Equestrian Use of the Preserve

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
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In a showdown that could pit Santa Barbara County Parks and the environmental community on one side and mountain biking and equestrian groups on the other, a public meeting to present and receive comment on the San Marcos Foothills Preserve Long Term Open Space Management Plan will be held at the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Incident Management Room at 6 p.m. Wednesday night, March 26. OEM is located at 4408 Cathedral Oaks Road a quarter mile west of the Highway 154 overpass.

In 2006, a development plan by Bermant Development Corporation for the 377-acre property called the “Preserve at San Marcos” was approved by the County and as part of the Bermant development plan, three parcels totaling 10 acres were donated to Santa Barbara County Parks for public park purposes, two parcels totaling 6.06 acres were donated to the Santa Barbara Soaring Association, and a 200-acre parcel was donated to the Trust for Public Land. That 200-acre parcel was later, in turn, donated to the County of Santa Barbara under the stipulation that it be used as a public open space and preserved in perpetuity.

County Parks has been managing the property under the guidance of an Interim Management Plan prepared in 2010. According to the final plan, which will be in effect for 10 years, “This long-term open space management plan is intended to support the Community Services Department’s ‘Connecting People to Opportunities’ mission, which is: to provide community, cultural, and recreational resources that sustain and enhance quality of life for all who live, work, and play in Santa Barbara County.”

Opposition to Exclusion

The rub, according to the Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers (SBMTV), Santa Barbara Trails Council (SBTC) and the Los Padres Trail Riders, is that both bicycling and equestrian use are prohibited by the plan. “It’s ironic,” said SBMTV President Chris Orr, “that Community Services wants to exclude a large part of the community from using the Preserve.” The Final Plan cites a 2011 trail use survey conducted by the Front Country Trails Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force found that only 4 percent of the users were on bicycle and less than 1 percent were on horseback while more than 14 percent of the total number of visitors had a dog with them. The Plan concluded, “Given the trail user group statistics from 2011, which revealed that very few bicyclists and equestrians would make use of the trails on the Preserve, the County has decided to prohibit both activities from the Preserve public access areas.” It also noted “the primary environmental concern with equestrian use of the trails is the introduction of noxious weeds from seed contained in horse droppings.”

In an action letter sent out to key leaders in the trail community, SBMTV described the trail user survey data cited in the 2014 Preserve Management Plan as being significantly flawed. “A number of the trails used in the survey severely limit access to the equestrian and cyclist communities,” Orr said “and thus skew the numbers. The 2011 Task Force statistics cannot be used to accurately predict use at the San Marcos Foothills Preserve.” In fact, Orr added, “the San Marcos Foothill Preserve, if managed as multi-use, would fill a community need by offering excellent equestrian parking and wide open, non-technical trails that would appeal to and be used by a broad spectrum of trail users.”

In an effort to expand use of San Marcos Preserve to include bikes and horses, SBMTV is encouraging community members to write both 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf and County Parks Manager Paddy Langland to lift the prohibition on cycling and equestrian use. For more information, visit the SBMTV website.

Preserve Coalition Focuses on Protection

Many of the environmental groups that joined forces to create the San Marcos Foothills Coalition in 1999 support the exclusion. According to the Coalition’s website, their mission is to “preserve, protect, and restore this biologically rich, scenic treasure in its entirety for the public benefit, now and for future generations.” Focused on natural resource protection and restoration of the newly formed open space, the Coalition, which includes the Environmental Defense Center, Audubon Society, Urban Creeks Council, and a number of neighborhood groups, has consistently advocated for a ban on bike and equestrian use.

Trails Council Weighs In

The Santa Barbara Trails Council (SBTC) is also in support of multi-use access to San Marcos Preserve. “Since the arrival of Spanish settlers well over 200 years ago, this area has been used for grazing of livestock, and in the modern era it was home to a dairy operation,” said SBTC President Otis Calef. “During the last 50 years, it has been used consistently by the local community for recreation, including among many activities the most basic of which are walking, horseback riding, and bicycling.

Describing the proposal to ban historic horse and bicycle use as a very harmful precedent, Calef noted the plan is contrary to the Land Use Element of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, which states that “opportunities for hiking and equestrian trails should be preserved, improved and expanded whenever compatible with surrounding land uses.”

“The plan to ban bicycles and horses is simply not based on any substantial evidence that those continued uses on the Preserve’s system of trails would make any significant negative impact on the natural environment of the Preserve,” he said. “One of the most important aspects of planning for our community is to provide connective links between our parks, trails and open spaces to achieve a true system of public trails that is available to everyone. “The San Marcos Preserve is connected by the bridge over Highway 154 to Via Chaparral and the equestrian properties in that neighborhood to the San Antonio Creek Trail and Tucker’s Grove Park. To arbitrarily remove San Marcos Preserve from this system would clearly be in violation of the General Plan and would be a significant step backwards for the future development of public trails and access.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Santa Barbara was once very horse friendly, now it's very hard to even find a home for an equine family member.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 2:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I'm not sure why there are so many people against bikes, they don't even poop on the trail like horses. Although the only place I wish they would prohibit horses is Isla Vista...specifically police horses, those should be banned from pooping all over the streets in IV just so they can laugh when drunk people step in it.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 2:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Horses used to go through my Mission Canyon then humans replaced them with their speeding cars. The developers assure me however, that "it's called progress".

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 3:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Loonpt: It's not the bikes people are against, it's the often-inconsiderate people who ride them.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 3:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank god "the County has decided to prohibit both activities [equine and bikes] from the Preserve public access areas."! As Ray and others have pointed out in the past, e.g. in this paper about savage bike damage to the frontside Romero Cyn. Trail, bikes are really damaging. In 2011 less than 4% of users were on bikes, so it's a tiny minority making a big noise. I'm less opposed to the equine aspect.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 3:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

In May 2008 Ray Ford wrote a fine article detailing the costs of mountain biking with Romero Canyon Trail as his example, and with many quotes from Frank Sovich, and four photos detailing the damage bikes have done to this formerly pristine trail: . Since ONLY Rattlesnake Cyn Trail has a ban on bikes (but not on horses), let's add this area to that designation. Very few mountain bikers make a huge amount of noise.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 3:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I dunno, stuff like this:

really doesn't persuade me to ban bikes on the trail... Besides, it could have been a dog that trampled that plant. A lot of the damage could be from big dogs trampling plants. And trampled plants directly on the side of a trail should not be a concern when there are acres of these plants going in all directions.

You have to be really unloose in the caboose to sitting on a trail in nature concerned about a bike tire mark going off the trail or a trampled plant. Just look around and relax a little.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 4 p.m. (Suggest removal)

glad you checked, but you may not have hiked Romero for 35 years like I have and then noticed the heavy damage from the mountain bikers...Look at some of the other photos in the '08 Ford piece, those deep grooves make a V-shape and then when it rains... trail is wrecked. And like BC says, it's the inconsiderate riders who ruin it for the others.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 5:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Big dogs are far lighter than horses, and they would not damage plants - if they ever walked on them, which they rarely do.

The paths on SMF are better suited to hiking and walking, than riding horses or bikes.

tabatha (anonymous profile)
March 25, 2014 at 6:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I gotta go with DrDan & Tabatha on this one--not all trails are suitable for bikes and-or horses. After nearly getting clobbered by a downhill racer (bike) while walking up the trail to Nineteen Oaks years ago, I have a distinct bias. Open-to-bikes trails have to be somewhat open so you can see the fools coming, and vice-versa. As for horses, billclausen, they still clop by from time to time, even in San Roque. ☺

GregMohr (anonymous profile)
March 26, 2014 at 9:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Calef of SBTC mentions "historic use" of the San Marcos preserve property by mountain bikes? What?!? Until about 7 years ago that entire ranch was an active cattle grazing property fully fenced by barbed wire. I know because I've lived next door to it for most of my 50+ years beginning in 1964. I have walked all over that land (yes, I was technically trespassing as a child and adult) and I can testify with certainty I never saw a bicycle tire track in the dirt until recently. Were the "historic" bikers of years past tossing their bikes over the barbed wire and riding around the pasture lands while dodging cattle without leaving any traces? What bunk! And anyone who claims bicycle use doesn't damage foot trails is not being honest. The jesusita trail is a chewed up dusty track - especially on the sharp turns which really suffer from bike traffic - compared to what it was 20 years ago.

Totoro2 (anonymous profile)
March 26, 2014 at 3:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

While Calef and SBTC do a lot of good, many enviros believe they sold out on the Gaviota section of the Calif. Coastal Trail -- (see comments section). Here, Otis is simply wrong about "historic use" of this preserve by mountain bikers: good to have your facts straight.
Completely agree Totoro2 that "anyone who claims bicycle use doesn't damage foot trails is not being honest. " Or, they haven't been using these frontcountry trails fror 40 years and don't have the perspective to witness the damage. Over on Little Pine Mountain mountain bikers have absolutely RUINED the Santa Cruz Trail.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 26, 2014 at 5:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

While we are all entitled to our opinions... Scientific studies reveal that mountain bike use carries similar impacts to hiking. In research report published on the USGS site conducted by the National Park Service titled, 'Assessing and Understanding Trail Degradation: Results from Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area', states: "Analyses to investigate the influence of use-related, trail design, and maintenance factors were conducted. Type of use was found to be a substantially greater determinant of trail degradation than amount of use... ATV trails are significantly more degraded than hiking and biking trails. For example, mean soil loss measured at sample points are… 19 in2 for hiking trails and 6 in2 for bike trails." In summary the NPS research shows that bikes contribute to erosion at a rate less then that of hiking. The full report can be found here:

tarpe_diem (anonymous profile)
March 27, 2014 at 2:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I think all trail users, mountain bikers included, should be respectful of others and use the trails in such a way that their actions don't negatively affect others.

That said I ask you. who does a great deal of the trail work around here?.....stuff the forest service no longer has the staff or budget to do.

If it wasn't for Mtn bike activism, in the form of trail maintenance, many of our trails might be overgrown, debris strewn and impassable.

billd (anonymous profile)
April 18, 2014 at 10:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

you're kind of forgetting the fine work LPNF Assoc. does, billd. Also, many hikers do work on the trails, only we don't have large associations and, with respect, don't do pr work for our individual efforts. I dispute that mountain bikes make the same damage to trails as hikers. It is not so.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
April 19, 2014 at 11:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

In the end, doesn't it all depend on the individual equestrian, hiker and mountain bike rider?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 19, 2014 at 11:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

careful, Ken, you're now agreeing with the NRA that it ain't the rifle, it's the human. M difference is that the humans' feet do NOT make anything like the damage horses hooves or mountain biker wheels make. tarpe_diem is quite wrong in his/her assertion. So we do need to control those with the individual ability to really wreck hard-won trails.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
April 19, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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