Trails redesign discussed

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Malibu residents were presented with three different plans to alter the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s trail system at a special hearing on Saturday at Webster Elementary School. Meetings also took place this past week in Canoga Park and Camarillo. The comments heard at the meetings will be used in the drafting of the final environmental impact report and environmental impact statement for a final trail proposal.

The idea to redesign the SMMNRA trail system came about in the early ’90s when the popularity of mountain biking escalated and complaints arose from hikers, bikers and equestrians. The National Park Service, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy and members of the public came together to form the Santa Monica Mountains Area Recreational Trails Project in 1995 in response to the new conflicts.

The SMMART Project was responsible for collecting the data that was used in developing the Trail Management Plan. Among their numerous endeavors, project members developed standards for multiple-use trails, established a multi-agency trail crew, inventoried trails, identified missing trail links and determined mountain bike access.

SMMART Project member and equestrian Ken Wallace said that a resolution was possible “even though there’s conflict. It’s a matter of training and courtesy. I believe that we can create a multi-use system that doesn’t create conflict.”

The three plans would all greatly increase the size of the trail system, but by different amounts. A low-use system would increase it by 34 percent, a high-use system would increase it by 51 percent and a hybrid system would lead to a 45 percent increase.

Increasing the trail networks in each system would involve incorporating unofficial trails into the existing network and creating trails that would connect state and national parks. In addition to increasing trail mileage in an area that stretches south from Point Mugu to Griffith Par and east to the San Fernando Valley, the plans also aim to target visitor usage.

“We’re here today to talk about being on the ground, whether it’s on foot, hoof or bicycle,” said SMMNRA outdoor recreation planner Melanie Beck.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Southern California in 2002, the average recreational trail user is a middle-aged hiker and visits the parks with friends around four times a month.

Officials of the Trail Management Plan are accepting comments and suggestions about the alternatives until Oct. 21. They will then decide on an amenable system and submit their proposal to the proper state and federal officials.

Beck said she hopes that the Trail Management system will become a long term approach to outdoor recreational management: “We hope to get approved on the regional level and have this policy in place for at least 10 to 15 years.”

For more information on the proposals, go to www.nps.gov/samo/trails