Battle brewing over Malibu Creek Park trail use

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Cyclists believe they are discriminated against; equestrians say high speeds from bicyclists endanger safety on the trails.

By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

Equestrian enthusiasts and mountain bikers are at odds over a proposition to give better access to bicycles on two trails located within the Reagan Ranch at Malibu Creek State Park.

Since a well-attended March 2 public meeting where parks officials discussed a possible trails realignment, which could allow bikes on the Yearling and Lookout paths, both camps have spoken out on both sides of the issue.

Members of the horse riding community, joined by pedestrians and hikers, maintain that bicycles on the trails travel at high speeds, endanger safety, scare animals and constrain space. Cyclists counter that they are a misunderstood breed, and are discriminated against with false misinformation.

CORBA, the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association, is the lead agency advocating for the multi-use changeover. CORBA President Mark Langton said that mountain bikers, especially the group’s 300 members throughout Los Angeles and eastern Ventura counties, have few places to ride their two-wheelers in the Malibu area.

“We’ve been asking for these trails to be opened for many, many years,” Langton said.

One solution mountain bicyclists are seeking is to gain accessibility to the trails, and connectivity from Yearling and Lookout to the adjacent Paramount Ranch. Since California State Parks began considering the matter in 2008, the group believes it has been unfairly maligned and is only seeking some trails use fairness.

“We’re not trying to restrict anyone’s use of the trails. We’re just trying to be treated equitably,” Langton said. “Mountain bicyclists and CORBA are not fighting against anybody. CORBA simply wants to be recognized and treated fairly and equitably.”

Langton said that while he doesn’t have statistics, he believes the unfair treatment is in the numbers. He believes that horse riders comprise 5 percent to 10 percent of visitors on the Yearling and Lookout trails. Cyclists, he said, are the larger user group, amounting to five times as much.

The volume of bicyclists is why Ruth Gerson’s big criticism with the multiuse proposal comes down to safety. The Agoura resident rides the trails twice a week on her horse and said that she has regularly seen bicycles silently race down the winding Lookout Trail slope, sneaking up on and frightening horses and endangering others with their speed. It discourages people from visiting again, she said.

“The problem with multiuse trails [is others have to] default to mountain bikers because the bikes are so fast Š the pedestrians and equestrians have been hit,” she said. “It’s not fun going on a trail when you know someone’s going to come up behind you and hit you. We’re happy to share trails but it has to be safe. Otherwise, why use them? We’re being driven off the trails.”

Like CORBA, Gerson believes that the equestrian community also bears the brunt of misinformation that its members are anti-bicycle.

“There are a lot of decent, respectful mountain bikers, but they’re not all like that,” she said.

In the middle of the debate is Craig Sap. Acting superintendent of the State Parks Angeles District in Calabasas, Sap moderated the March 2 meeting and said that a realigning of the two trails wouldn’t include more cyclists or exclude any horses, rather, the creation of step-off areas or “passing” lanes could accommodate both since the trails are naturally very narrow, where blind spots are common.

“What we’d do is identify what needs to be done,” Sap said. “The trail may be fine in its configuration, but we need to work on line-of-sight issues.”

Sap said he understands the concerns of both camps, that cyclists are discouraged from using the trails because connectivity to Paramount Ranch is poor and the concerns from equestrians about safety.

“We can allow for linkages from one area of the park to the other that they didn’t have,” he said. “They’re kind of cut off.”

As for the equestrians, Sap noted that their grievances, mainly high speeds, are too important to be denied in determining if the change in trail use ever goes through.

“From their standpoint, it’s not safe,” he said. “They tend to have a speed differential between horses and bikers that’s too great for their concerns.”

Sap also said that State Parks has strongly considered the modification because the Yearling Trail, in particular, sits in a low-lying meadow preserve and suffers rain damage and erosion too easily.

“From a maintenance perspective, it was more work,” he said, adding, “We can move the trail into an area where it becomes more sustainable.”

State Parks is still far off from changing the Yearling or Lookout trails, if at all.

Sap said the process needs to be vetted more. An environmental impact report would need to be done, which could take a minimum of several months. There are also other possible roads that could derail the change in use, he said. For example, an archaeological study could prove the entire area contains a Chumash village and cannot be tampered with.

“We haven’t decided what we’re doing,” he said.

Sap still is receiving public comments from bikers, equestrians and anyone with input on the trails realignment.

“We have to recognize that our trails should be considered for multiuse,” he said. “It’s supposed to be, for the most part, accessible for most users.”