By Joseph Ciolino
Bikers lose access as Marines step up base border patrols
For the five clients of attorney Richard Duquette, breathing in fresh air and getting exercise was what they expected while hitting some mountain biking paths in Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP). Instead, they came in contact with Marines, roving around in Humvees, who confiscated their bicycles.
Duquette, an Oceanside attorney and bicycle advocate, said the mountain bikers were riding along Stowe Trail, a trail located just east of Marine Core Air Station Miramar (MCAS) boundaries, before being stopped by marines.
“It was not clearly demarked and roving patrols surprised them,” Duquette said. “They took expensive $5,000 to $7,000 mountain bikes.”
This isn’t the only instance mountain bikers had their bikes confiscated.
Forty-five bicycles and three motorcycles were seized around the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and civilian encroachment has been an ongoing problem since the early ’90s, said 1st Lt. Matthew Gregory, Public Affairs Officer, MCAS.
But it wasn’t until a few mountain bikers rode towards the sound of firing ranges when MCAS decided to expand patrols to their absolute boundaries and enforce against encroachment. This is where the problem with signage arose.
“There was no adequate signage on their physical boundaries,” said Ben Stone, Vice President, San Diego Mountain Biking Association (SDMBA). “They were catching people coming up on trails that were in their property but had zero idea because there’s a sign 300 feet away, but they believe they’re in a city of San Diego park.”
The military has recently put in new signage on their exact boundaries and, according to Stone, that isn’t good for mountain bikers because it cuts the loop trail system up, making the trails all one-way.
The East Elliot network of loop trails is a popular place to mountain bike that was essentially ruined by the stricter enforcement of the Marine base boundary. It will likely be inaccessible until the full Mission Trails Regional Park Master Plan is complete and implemented – which could be five to 15 years down the line. Once the Master Plan is implemented, new trails can be routed solely on San Diego city property.
“East Elliot is the place for mountain biking in Mission Trails,” Stone said. “Really, every other trail there will be re-routed someday based on the master plan that is in the process [of being drawn up] now.”
According to the plan analysis document on the MTRP website, the Master Plan’s objectives include defining the park’s setting in terms of physical environment, aesthetics, public plans and policies, surrounding land use and ownership.
The plan will also identify recreational and other open space potentials within the park setting; assess existing and potential relationships (especially edges, roads and trail linkages) between the park, its immediate surroundings, and the San Diego region as a whole; and, finally, to maintain and update a comprehensive Master Plan in terms of park uses, facility sizes and locations, environmental and architectural design concepts and strategies to avoid or minimize environmental impacts.
More specifically, Stone is referring to the plan’s effort to reroute the trails throughout MTRP, including East Elliot, ultimately providing a network of legal trails for generations to enjoy, according to an SDMBA blog posted on March 25. The blog also stated that an individual tore down two signs in East Elliot, and warned that tearing down signs doesn’t solve any issues and Marines will still ticket and confiscate bikes.
MTRP claims to have 53 miles of trail, but only about nine miles of trail is legal, multi-use, single-track trail, according to Stone. Thirty-three miles are SDG&E fire-roads and only about seven out of the nine multi-use trails are open to mountain bikers. One of the two trails that are closed includes the front of Cowles Mountain.
“What was sort of the mountain biking destination in San Diego for mountain bikers is toast, it’s done for,” Stone said.
But the issue of Stowe Trail still remains, and this trail is particularly important because it is a historical trail dating back to the early 1800s. Mountain bikers, equestrians and hikers have been using the trail for a few decades. Stone and the SDMBA are pushing the military to give civilians some form of access to the historical trail.
“These are historical connections that are going to be lost to the next generation if we can’t figure out a way to get up there,” Stone said.
A little over a decade ago, an act of Congress was passed for the military to sell the portion of Stowe Trail property that goes onto Miramar to the county, but the process took so long that a new base commander turned around and disagreed to sell the property and the sale of the property has essentially been in limbo ever since.
For the military, this is more than just the Stowe Trail. Overall, people are coming onto the base and not just from that eastern side of the trail, said Gregory.
“We have mountain bikers that come in on west Miramar near the cemetery, we have people that come in from under the [state Route] 52, from Santee Lakes and Scripps Ranch,” said Gregory. “It’s not like we’re singling out any one group.”
Along with the obvious need for more apparent and visible signage, an idea Stone suggested was to allow mountain bikers to pre-register their bikes — allowing them to ride on base property, a practice already observed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.
Mainly, SDMBA and Stone hope that the military will work something out with the county, whether it is a sale of the Stowe Trail land, a lease of the land or possibly a public easement.
“There are a lot of different options on the table,” said Stone. “We offered as many options as plausible.”
But according to Gregory, it’s just not that simple, and there are currently no plans for the military to do this.
“Something like that is out of our hands,” he said. “It takes a congressional approval to be able to do anything like that, like changing borders of the base or ownership.”
The five clients of Richard Duquette eventually received their bicycles from MCAS in a deal where the confiscated bikes were returned.
Chief Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes and Duquette were able to work out an agreement with the military where the clients received their bikes back and the misdemeanors were dismissed. In return, the bicyclists agreed to pay a $250 civil fee and not sue for civil rights violations, according to Duquette’s blog.
That deal was an improvement over the original $500 citation that mountain bikers were facing.
Despite the tickets and weeks spent without their bikes, Duquette said his clients don’t feel animosity towards the military.
“The military are our neighbors, we should try to coexist and work together,” said Duquette. “All mountain bikers appreciate the military and their role.”
For more information about the SDMBA visit sdmba.com/site/. For more information about Mission Trails Regional Park, visit mtrp.org.
—Joseph Ciolino is an editorial intern for San Diego Community Newspaper Network, the parent company of the Mission Times Courier. Reach him at email@example.com.