Addressing the opposition to the Pogonip multi-use trail

We have noticed some misleading information concerning the proposed Pogonip multi-use trail (MUT) on news articles, comments and printed material around town.

This post is going to address the misinformation and provide the facts about this proposal.

Misinformation: This trail was proposed by the mountain biking community

Fact: The Parks and Recreation Department with the support of the Fire Department and the Police Department proposed the construction of the Pogonip MUT for the following reasons: increasing access to the east side of the park and as a way to mitigate the negative activity in the area by displacing it with positive activity.

Currently, 150 acres of the east side of the Pogonip is currently closed to the public. The MUT is a mechanism for which it can be open to the public again. MBoSC and the mountain biking community completely supports this trail and will provide financial support, physical support (trail design and construction) and political support for the implementation of this trail.

Misinformation: Motorcycles will be able to use this trail.

Fact: There has never been a proposal for motorized vehicles to use this trail. The threat of motorized access was used to incite opposition to this trail.

Misinformation: The proposed multi-use trail will be paved.

Fact: Proposing a paved trail through the Pogonip has never come up for consideration in the context of the MUT. Mountain bikers do not advocate for paved trails in forests. Period. We enjoy natural surface trails. We believe that there has been some confusion with the proposed Arana Gulch trail – which is to be paved.

The multi-use trail opponents at has a series of points used to support their opposition to this trail. The rest of this post will address these points by presenting Pogonip Watch points in block quote text and our counter points are below them.

I urge the Council to direct City staff to work instead with the County of Santa Cruz to explore the superior route of a Rail Trail—open to bicyclists and pedestrians—adjacent to the Big Trees Railroad tracks from Harvey West Park through the Pogonip.

The Big Trees alternate route is a non-starter which will be explained in detail later in this post. The proposal of a rail trail is expensive, will need to be negotiated with several agencies, will still carry a risk for trail users and Big Trees management already said no to the request. The environmental review and trail plan already addressed this point on page 12.

The Pogonip multi-use trail is far superior to a proposed rail trail. The funds for the environmental study has been released and spent on a very comprehensive document. Money and volunteers have been recruited for the construction of the trail. All we are waiting for is the approval from the City Council and we can have this trail completed by the summer. An adjacent rail trail will need to be negotiated with Big Trees, will be costly (where is the money?) and doesn’t have the same level of support.

Drug activity in the Pogonip has been successfully eradicated owing to the efforts of city police and park rangers, and the area cleaned up, with additional help from community groups. According to park rangers, no arrests of those involved in drug activity have been made for the past six months. The primary reason for constructing the proposed “multi-use” trail (to reduce drug activity) has gone away. There is no reason to expect it to resurface if our police, rangers and community groups keep up the good work.

The primary motivation for the trail – according to the environmental review published by the Parks Department – is to increase public access to inspire residents and visitors to learn more about resource management and environmental stewardship. The secondary objective is to displace negative activity with legitimate public use.

Drug activity has been eradicated due to the ongoing engagement by Police and Rangers – which is an expensive use of City resources. This is not a long term cost effective solution given the state of city budgets. The transients/drug activity will come back if a long term solution is not found – like the MUT.

The MUT implementation will be largely financed and constructed with community involvement. The construction will be a great opportunity to bring the community together for a cause and will provide an excellent recreational and economic resource for the city at a very low cost while providing the long term solution for that area. This is a win win for the city and will represent a really high return on a small investment.

The U-Con trail (in the Pogonip!) is a case study for how a MUT drove out negative activity and created a great resource for the City.

The proposed “multi-use” trail (see map) as currently laid out by Parks staff working with Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz, comes within 50 feet of an existing pedestrian-only trail (the Fern Trail) and would co-exist with another currently existing pedestrian-only trail (the Lower Meadow Trail). This would encourage bicyclists to stray onto these and other pedestrian-only trails in the Pogonip.

This portion of the Fern trail follows a fall line and exceeds 25% in several locations. Several ruts and small gullies have formed on the former alignment that follows an old ranch road. A short reroute around the old road to east also follows the fall line and is beginning to erode. MBoSC has proposed a re-alignment of the Fern trail as part of the construction of the MUT in order to create a sustainable grade (generally around 10%) and out of view of the MUT. The Fern trail realignment has several benefits: it will provide a nicer experience; greater separation between the Fern Trail and the MUT; eliminate the erosion of an unsustainable trail; and will eliminate transient campers – which were evident during the survey. Furthermore, the forest type and habitat is similar to the study area and will not require any additional environmental review.

The proposed Fern trail realignment will continue to be pedestrian only. It’s very doubtful that mountain bikers will be encouraged to ride the Fern trail. The MUT will be a purposely built recreational trail that will completely satisfy trail users.

A rail trail adjacent to the Big Trees Railroad tracks would start from Encinal Street in Harvey West Park and run northward 1.5 miles to the southern end of the rail trestle just south of the crossing of Highway 9 by the rail tracks. Many bicyclists (approximately 50 per day) now make use of an ad-hoc path adjacent to the tracks, which is hazardous, illegal, and presents a liability to Big Trees Railroad.

We agree that it’s hazardous, illegal and presents a liability. Point taken. Cyclists know this but are willing to take these risks anyway since this is preferable and safer than Hwy 9.

The fact that 50 bikes/day (their numbers) use the tracks demonstrates a social need for a way for bicyclists to travel parallel to the tracks instead of using Hwy 9.

A safer and adequately surfaced bicycle and pedestrian path would travel along the west (rather than the east as the ad-hoc path does) side of the tracks. Such construction was analyzed in detail in a 2006 engineering study, and is quite feasible. Also such a rail trail could provide a good connection to the University Connector (U-CON) Trail through the upper Pogonip up to UCSC. A rail trail along this southern 1.5 miles would also constitute the first segment of a much-desired bicycle and pedestrian route linking Santa Cruz with Felton.

The 2006 SLV Trail Feasibility Study presented four alternative routes from Santa Cruz to Felton. The rail trail was the one with the greatest support among bike advocates but was not the most economically or feasible route. The study concluded:

“the Railroad Route and the southern portion of Highway 9 from Santa Cruz to Felton were deemed by the County Public Works Department, as the responsible local agency, to be economically impractical for the department to improve as connecting bicycle and pedestrian routes. The extremely high costs of the improvements are associated with the severe physical, operational and environmental constraints, including potential impact on natural resources in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. In addition to the design, environmental review and construction costs accounted for in the cost estimates, use of the railroad right-of-way would entail access acquisition costs that could potentially be significant.”

Later in that document it states that the costs of the 5.5 mile rail trail from Santa Cruz to Felton will be about $25.6 million or about $4.9 million per mile. Even if only 1.5 miles of the rail trail was built it would still be about $7.5 million – money that the City, State or Federal doesn’t really have.

The study presents the Plymouth-Sims/Graham Hill Road route as the most feasible connection from Santa Cruz to Felton and even then the costs are still significant – $2.7 million per mile.

In contrast, the MUT will be largely built and financed by the community. The costs would be in the tens of thousands of dollars and MBoSC has already raised $11 K towards the construction of the trail and we have a volunteer labor force trained in sustainable trail building techniques who can construct this trail.

A rail trail along the tracks would not require amendment of the 1998 Pogonip Master Plan, unlike for the proposed “multi-use” trail.

The Parks Department Mitigated Negative Declaration includes a master plan amendment and has been paid for and completed with the $25K funds approved by the City last year. It’s already done.

The Pogonip Greenbelt is one of the few public natural areas in the county where bicycle use is strictly limited (to the existing U-CON and Cowell Connector trails). The proposed “multi-use” trail would introduce bicycles into the sensitive Redwood Creek drainage—one of the most beautiful areas of the Pogonip. It is also questionable whether the proposed trail will be truly “multi-use”.

There are many places in the county where bikes are excluded outright and severely limited in other places in the County. With the exception of Wilder Ranch State Park mountain bikes are mostly limited to dirt roads. Mountain bikers are the largest growing constituency of trail users in the past two decades yet the number of trails authorized for mountain biking has not kept pace.

There seems to be a pattern of local opposition to legitimate mountain bike access on trails. When a proposal for legitimate bike access goes through the public process but the outcome is not what the NIMBYs want then they will file a lawsuit against the public agency. We should trust that our local land managers know and understand the best ways to manage access to the natural resources. They should not be second guessed by these NIMBYs.

Redwood Creek beautiful but is is hardly sensitive. It takes quite a beating from the winter storms every year and manages to survive quite well. Bike are zero emission vehicles and do not leave any trace from using the trail. The MUT will be built using state of the art sustainable trail designs which will minimize the impact from all users. There should be no concerns about erosion and siltation into the creek. Furthermore, the secondary design objective is to minimize trail conflict by providing choke points (speed reducers) and long sight lines.

The negative activity related to transient camping and drug activity that has been escalating over the past decade or so is the real environmental issue impacting the Pogonip. Trees have been cut and burned for firewood, garbage is strewn around and human and drug waste has left behind. This detrimental activity has been allowed to occur over decades and led to the closure of 150 acres of the park in 2009. How can these “stewards” prefer the status quo over healthy family friendly activities?

The Redwood creek watershed (a.k.a “Heroin Hill”) feeds the San Lorenzo river at about 1/2 mile from the Tait Street inlet where the city of Santa Cruz gets 50% of its fresh water. Having transients camping, crapping, doing their drugs, leaving their needles and bloody rags in this watershed compromises our water supply and transports needles and garbage from the San Lorenzo river to our beaches. If we cant protect our own fresh water from contamination then what is the point of environmental stewardship?

This isn’t a new problem. We read all the documents related to the 1998 Pogonip general plan process and bike access to trails was definitely the overwhelming concern of the local “environmental stewards”. There was a couple of comments concerning the transient camping problem but they were not addressed. The environmental problems of transient camping and drug activity were allowed to fester and grow since then. However, as soon as a proposal to allow bike access that the “Friends of the Pogonip” and the local Sierra Club decided to become active again to oppose this plan.

The Friends of the Pogonip may have had good intensions for protecting the Pogonip during the acquisition phase but their stewardship of this property since then has been less than optimal. Many of the proposals in the Pogonip Master Plan remain un-implemented. Perhaps it’s time to bring more stewards on board. If we get the Pogonip Multi-Use trail then the mountain biking community will not allow those environmental problems to take root again.

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One Response to Addressing the opposition to the Pogonip multi-use trail

  1. James R. Morton says:

    A bicycle is the cleanest mode of transportation that we have next to walking. Yet they have been banned from National Forests, most State Parks and Wilderness areas. A well designed trail with Multi-Use taken into account works in many progressive thinking communities. Prescott Az. is a great example of a community that does not exclude a portion of their population because they choose to ride a bike. Sedona AZ. Check them out as well.
    The Pogonip MUT would be a gem to the local community. The “whole” community.

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