In a public meeting attended by close to 50 community members, many of them aligned on opposite sides of the issue when it comes to what types of recreation will be offered at San Marcos Preserve, Santa Barbara County Parks affirmed its position that both mountain bikes and equestrians should be banned from the Preserve.
Mark de la Garza, representing the company hired to do the management plan for the Preserve, Watershed Environmental, noted in his presentation that the primary focus of the 200 acre open space area was the protection of the biological, scenic and archaeological resources in this portion of the San Marcos foothills.
Ana Citrin, representing the Law Offices of Marc Chytilo, which represented the San Marcos Foothills Coalition when the land exchange that transferred the property from the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) to the County described the “intent and purpose” of TPL in the exchange was protection of the resources and not recreational use. “The donation did not list access as a goal of the donation,” Citrin said.
Tom Stone, one of the founding members of the Preserve Coalition described the Preserve as a “unique piece of property” that provides an opportunity to revitalize a piece of the foothills to near native conditions. Retired UCSB professor and noted open space expert Wayne Ferrin added that “as a representation of the foothill ecology, the Preserve provides an excellent opportunity to restore a habitat that is becoming increasingly rare, one that would provide a needed link from the coastal to the mountain habitats.”
Representatives of the Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers (SBMTV) and Montecito Trails Foundation (MTF) President Bobbi King urged County Parks to include bikes and horses as acceptable uses at San Marcos Preserve. SBMTV Board member Jack Greenbaum described the data used to justify eliminating bicycles as flawed, wondering if the data showed that few bikers would use the property why they would be banned. “If there isn’t a problem why would you ban them?” King added that the Preserve provides a perfect place for equestrian riding, accessible for beginners as well as more advanced riders, what she described as a “home town park for equestrians.”
Though it wasn’t discussed as such and never really addressed in the Management Plan, the basic issue boiled down to County Park’s interpretation of the differences between a park and a preserve and whether managing them differently is justified. SBMTV’s Greenbaum argued that other public agencies in Southern California include both bikes and equestrian use in the preserves and should here as well. Santa Barbara City’s Douglas Preserve certainly does here as well. Members of the San Marcos Foothills Coalition argued that protection of the Preserve trumps certain kinds of recreational use.
If the County erred in its Management Plan it was in not providing adequate justification that either mountain bikes or equestrian use would harm the biological, scenic or archaeological resources than the many dog lovers who visit the area would. “One of the main focuses will be keeping people on the trails and dogs on leash,” de la Garza explained in his presentation and later affirmed by County Parks Planner Claude Garcia-Celay. Given the relaxed attitudes most trail users who bring their dogs with them, it remains to be seen how easily the on trail and on leash requirements can be managed and whether dog access will eventually create more protection issues than either horses or bikes would have.