Sunday, February 24, 2013

Del Mar Mesa Preserve

This morning I got out for a run to Del Mar Mesa Preserve. I'd been through there a few times before after noticing a blank spot on the map, and even led a little Poway-to-UTC multi-canyon run with some friends back in July. Today I wanted to connect Penasquitos Canyon to that single track you see leading south from the dead end of Camino del Sur right below the 56. What a day for it too - nice and warm and clear and a slight easterly breeze from this mild El Nino we were having. And in the process I was lucky enough to stumble across the amazing Deer Canyon/Tunnels area. I think the canyon's only competition in San Diego County is from next-door Penasquitos.

Who knew this was here? Well okay, lots of mountain bikers. According to one forum, this is the biggest stand of oaks south of Morro Bay. A lot of the area is technically off-limits, but looking at a satellite map you can clearly see all the unofficial trails. The most recent trail proposal I could find looks like this - the red circle and little connector is a trail that is NOT there (I was just there today) but is on the official proposal, and which I would be very excited to see get completed. (If I can join a work team, I'll help clear it! Though I would have really liked it about 10am today.)

Why is so much of the area off-limits? The surrounding communities have been deciding what to do with this area for a while, and part of it is under the jurisdiction of CA Fish & Game. There's a great article at Voice of SD about the delay and how it's damaged what's supposed to be protected and kept out the people who respect the land. And I've certainly never seen anything like an official patrol back there but today I ran into a couple of hikers who told me horror stories of people being ticketed and even bikes being confiscated. While putting preservation proposals into action legitimately takes time, there's a general feeling that maybe the foot-dragging has more to do with property owners not wanting an official park in their back yards that appears on maps - and maybe from property developers who don't want the area to be off-limits.

If you're an adjacent property owner, there are two good reasons you should be in favor of the preserve being made official ASAP, and open to access by trail-runners and -riders:

1) Being next to park land raises property values. Multiple studies have been done on this. Plus, what do you want to see to your north, more houses, or your current awesome view?

2) If there are legitimate park users there, there are far fewer squatters. If you don't believe me, read this 2008 SD Reader article about how many squatters used to live in the canyon before the mountain bikers started using it heavily. There was even a pot farm found there in '09. The more heavily used the area is by outdoors types, the less of this will go on. Once it's officially a park, there's clear law enforcement agency responsibility, and fewer people lighting fires at night. The riders and runners aren't the people to worry about!

Some of the controversy has been about why, and to what extent, the preserve remains a wildlife preserve. Whatever protects the land from development soonest is what we should be for. We can work out the details once it's official and open, so the public values it more and votes to protect it. This is in the San Diego city limits and it's in the political districts listed below. It took me 10 minutes to write all of these representatives!

Sherri Lightner (San Diego City Council District 1)
Brian Maienschein (CA Assembly District 77)
Marty Block (CA Senate District 39)
Scott Peters
(US Rep District 52)

I hope to meet you while we're both volunteering to dig or maintain a trail once it's official out there. Until then, here are some articles about the recent history of the struggle to protect the place in a publicly accessible way.

Years of Broken Promises on Protected Land, Dec 2012
Canyon Trails Traffic Jam, Dec 2008
Del Mar Mesa Preserve Trail Plan Discussion on the SoCal Trail Riders forum
Update on Del Mar Mesa Trails, 2008, San Diego Mountain Biking Association

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