Laguna Canyon trail takes beating from mountain bikers

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A mountain biker pedals on the ridge above Telonics Trail on May 19. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Tex Haines considers the trails and hills behind his Laguna Canyon home to be his church.

After years of hiking, the Victoria Skimboards co-founder has developed a keen eye capable of spotting a California whipsnake slithering through tall grass and a patch of pesky poison oak shrouded in scrub. He’s also noticed an uptick in the amount of illegal excavation and modifications to Telonics Trail, a popular downhill chute among mountain bikers.

“I go up there to get close to nature and these guys are spoiling it needlessly,” Haines said. “I don’t understand how anyone can’t understand that this belongs to all of us.”

During a hike of the Telonics Trail on Tuesday, the Independent observed multiple modifications including jumps, hillside digging to create turns, plastic traction pads, water-channeling culverts, and shaved sandstone boulders. These types of modifications to public lands need to be approved by the California Coastal Commission because they may create significant environmental impacts.

Laguna Canyon resident Tex Haines looks at an illegally modified portion of Telonics Trail. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

However, the reality is that mountain bikers have modified this trail for 30 years because it runs through several jurisdictions, including OC Parks, Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach County Water District, and private landowners. OC park rangers are charged with enforcing laws in Aliso and Wood Canyons regional parks but as more people pursue outdoor recreation after self-isolating at home due to the coronavirus, it’s unclear how illegal trail modifications stack up on their list of priorities.

“The pandemic has not impacted park rangers’ ability to be out in the field enforcing laws,” OC Parks spokesperson Marisa O’Neil wrote in an email. “Park Rangers continue to work their normal work schedules as well as overtime, as appropriate.”

Rangers are also tasked with medical aids, maintenance, administrative functions, and resource management. One to four park rangers are typically available to respond to Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, depending on the situation, O’Neil wrote in an email.

OC Parks reported its investigating one case of maintenance activity on an unauthorized trail near Big Bend off Laguna Canyon Road.

Laguna Beach police officers respond to open space in areas adjacent to regional parks when they received emergency calls for service but don’t actively patrol there.

Haines acknowledges that there are practical and legal limits to policing a wilderness area with a patchwork of agencies employing limited manpower. But the result is that environmental damage caused by mostly unchecked mountain bikers in pursuit of an adrenaline rush could have long-term consequences, including slope instability.

“They’re going at it with a vengeance because they’re taking advantage of everyone staying at home,” Haines said.

Although he was unable to name individuals, Haines believes that a group of local mountain bikers named the Laguna RADS is largely responsible for the work happening on the work on the Telonics Trail.

“If their mothers knew about it they’d tear their heads off and their neighbors wouldn’t talk to them,” Haines said.

Laguna Canyon resident Tex Haines stands below Owl Rock, a popular stop for mountain bikers. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Hans Rey, a co-founder of the Laguna RADS, said in a phone interview Wednesday that Haines’ accusations about the mountain bike group are without merit.

“It’s easy to point the finger at the RADS because they rode them years ago,” Rey said. “There are thousands of people riding this trail. People come from Europe.”

He also pointed out that the average age of the RADS members is 55 or 60 and a lot of them aren’t interested in the jumping required by the Telonics trail. Rey added that he doesn’t agree with the practice of laying plastic traction pads on trails and that RADS members have been active in trying to educate visiting mountain bikers who break the rules.

Rey added that it’s unfortunate that a small group of hikers has perpetuated a negative stereotype of mountain bikers.

“The squeaky wheel often gets the oil and a lot of mountain bikers would ask why there isn’t one [exclusive] bike trail.”

Steve Larson, president of SHARE Mountain Bike Club, said his organization has been clear with fellow bikers they shouldn’t do work on land that they don’t have permission to be on.

“We’ve done what we can to educate people that we need to share the trail and be responsible,” Larson said. “Just like surfing waves, a lot of people are territorial.”

Larson added that park rangers have the ability to write tickets and confiscate bikes if they see people illegally modifying trails.

“I’m not sure what they can do when it leaves their property,” Larson said.

Even though Haines said he’s personally talked to park rangers about this issue, the agency they’re employed by said they’ve received no complaints by Laguna Beach residents that it’s shirking its responsibility to protect the environment.

“OC Parks takes very seriously its role as stewards of County parks and open space and we are not aware of any accusations by Laguna Beach residents indicating that OC Parks is neglecting that responsibility,” O’Neil wrote in an email.

A mountain biker starts his run down Telonics Trail on May 19. Photo by Daniel Langhorne
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12 COMMENTS

  1. Lol. Aaaaaand anyone is surprised?

    This is as old of news as there have been mountain bikers who ride off trail and damage trails and wilderness areas.

    The only way to slow down the destruction is to have more rangers with the power to enforce and laws that have some owner. Otherwise the destruction will continue as it always has.

    People do not care. They could not possibly care any less.

    Regular citizens have no power or authority. Other than lamenting the vandalism and getting upset,… there is nothing we can do.

    It’s a huge problem that has been ongoing for years. Do we have the strength of character to actually follow through and do anything of consequence?

    We have not so far.

    I guess we can continue to do more of the same and just wait and see,…

  2. Oh no!!! You mean someone rode a bike on the dirt trail? Can we call the FBI, CIA, DOJ? We certainly cant allow anyone to have any fun. How can we put a stop to this?

  3. Mountain Biking is evolving and so are the trails, These changes to the trail do not compare to the changes done to other trails by rangers to keep us off trails.

  4. Where to begin. I disagree with Tex’s entire premise. The minor modifications done to the Telonics Trail have made it safer for hikers and bikers by ensuring traction on the steeper sections, and diagonal water drainage paths for rainstorms. Given the trails have sat on the same footprint for 30+ years, how do any of these improvements “create significant environmental concerns”?

    Let’s do a quick logic recap: The fire roads are roughly 10-15’ wide and span miles through the terrain but I’m not seeing the part where you complain of the tractors or trucks patrolling. Instead you’re asking for more rangers and patrol vehicles to drive over your “church”?

  5. Hi David,

    I’m a local mountain biker living in Laguna, and I’m glad to see that you got the opinion of one mountain biker (a legend!) in this article. However, it feels like this article is largely about this one man’s opinion, and his opinion seems to be based more on his disposition for mountain bikers than it does to do with the land itself. This article has put mountain bikers in a bad light, and I believe that overall we’re friendly and responsible stewards of the land with good intentions. Some of what he said is not true, like mountain bikers going on a vengeance to do trail work while everyone is at home because of the pandemic. While that work on Teloncis may have been done by mountain bikers, all the work done has been there for at least a year with the exception of one jump. Misinformation like this makes it seem like we are largely a group that wants to disrupt other people’s enjoyment while out enjoying this beautiful land, and this couldn’t be farther from the truth! It would mean a lot to us mountain bikers if you could find a way to have our voices heard as loudly as his voice so that the public could make a better informed decision about this issue.

  6. Is this what society has come to with the influx of social media? Can anyone now write an article and call it “news” without including verifiable facts and instead base their conclusions on unsubstantiated facts? How can your paper even consider printing an infantile, hyperbolic, and solely conjecture comment like, “If their mothers knew about it they’d tear their heads off and their neighbors wouldn’t talk to them?” How does this in a helpful or enlightening way add to the article or help the situation as a whole? Unless the author is trying to make the person look irrational and closed-minded, this quote has no place in what should be fact-based reporting.

    Ultimately, however, where this article really fails is not so much in what is written in it, but what is so conspicuously left out. (I hesitate to say purposefully left out because I don’t have actual proof that this was the author’s intention: This is how logical and honest fact-collecting works; you don’t just write whatever you want or what someone says without researching it and substantiating the claims, unless this is the Opinion page: Is it? Did I miss that part perhaps?)

    If we’re going to have a forthright discussion about erosion and habitat restoration/protection, let’s start with the big ticket items first and after we’ve exhausted their toll on the environment, we can then work our way down the list to the least damaging issues and decide what is worth pursuing and changing. Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the room that no one seems to notice or want to talk about: Utility trucks, rangers, and countless other municipal vehicles drive the 15-20’ wide fire roads that weave throughout Aliso Woods on the daily. What sort of impact do you think they make on the animals that live there and the soil that people pay lip service to protecting? If you’re willing to ignore this, you might be a hypocrite. How about the bulldozing of entire hillsides in what officials call “preventive erosion” techniques? If you’re willing to justify man-made activities such as these, then attempt to shout down two-foot high mounds of dirt for bike jumps or berms, you might be a hypocrite. How about the rerouting of naturally flowing streams? How about building large wooden structures throughout the park? If you’re willing to allow such things and even go so far as to promote them while claiming parts of bike trails are ruining the natural beauty of the park, guess what? You might be a hypocrite. There are paved roads on all sides of the park with pretty much constant traffic and a monolithic, six lane toll road bisecting the park along its northern border: Does anyone really think that these roads do not have the greatest impact of all over the wildlife in the area? Or are we all just willing to overlook that because we subconsciously know those things will never change? But yes, by all means, let’s focus our efforts on (by comparison) minimally invasive bike trails because some loose canon with an ax to grind says we should. Please: Start making sense and stop the hyperbole and hypocrisy. (In my experience, the more that people use exaggerations and emotional calls to action, the more likely it is that they have a hidden agenda to promote. Again, I’m not claiming this to be a fact; it’s just a tendency in humans that I’ve noticed in my 55 years on this planet.)

    The park exists for everyone to share and bike trails aren’t causing the damage Tex and others say they are. Other things cause much more damage, but people are more than willing to conveniently overlook those things.

  7. BAN Victoria Skimboards.

    TEX , your views are archaic and inaccurate.

    Please author, can we you to return to the trails to see what Tex has done ..destruction of trails are dangerous, and will directly lead to injury of riders, hikers, and lead to further erosion of our mountain.

    Cmon Tex, for a representative of a local water sports company, this is like dropping in your waves and then ruining the reef on purpose. Please stop . Simple .

  8. Why was the PG trail, owl rock in the photo, just completely destroyed by the California Conservation Corps? I mean totally destroyed forever. Hundreds of holes dug, rocks smashed, stumps and logs placed, brush moved all over to make it totally impassable? I’ve been hiking this trail for 10 years and now its gone. Even of foot.

    Did Tex order this? Some high school age punks decided it was a good idea to start digging all over PG, destroying vegetation to make more jumps. Was this the reason? It wasnt RADS, I saw the young clownhole teenagers who did it.

  9. “I don’t understand how anyone can’t understand that this belongs to all of us.”

    This is because most people don’t have an understanding of the concept of property rights, including the person being quoted here.

    If the land on which a trail resides belongs to everyone, then it really belongs to no one. People and groups with influence fight to decide the public’s best interest in the land. Understand and recognize property rights and these kinds of issues can be solved. Unfortunately most people would rather deploy their influence or remain indifferent and so we are forever in dispute.

  10. I posted this article on my FB timeline when it was published, but finally got a chance this morning to thoroughly read it. I would say most of my current and former hiking buddies with the exception of one who when she was much younger was an avid bike rider, would agree with Tex. I have been hiking Laguna Wilderness at least twice a week since 1995, as I lived in North Laguna for 32 years, and occasionally would go back there in the late 1980s. My house was a near miss during the horrendous 1993 Laguna fires. Having said that, I remember in the mid 1990s I was hiking by myself down Bonner and crossed over to Emerald Ridge there was one young buck mountain biker, albeit pleasant, that passed by me and then cut down an unauthorized trail—one that in those days signs often were posted more or less stating keep off wild habitat. The lone mountain biker was bushwhacking it definitely eroding the soil. But in those days in the area of which I am speaking of there were few bike riders, and among the bikers and hikers there was mutual trail etiquette, especially mountain bike riders of all ages went out of their way to be polite and try to share the trail with you —as I agree with most of the posters the trails belong to all of us. Now, it is a different story since 2010 when this area I am talking about was advertised informally we witnessed this influx of bike riders who except for the older ones that are generally courteous when they ask to pass by you, the other mountain bikers instead of alerting you that they are passing on your left or right they just ring their bell and almost run over you. I understand if a mountain biker is riding downhill the walker has to give them the right away, but even if they are riding on even flat ground they want you to let them pass as in this area the trails are quite narrow. I do it grudgingly but really they act as if they own the mountain, and the walker/hiker should be subservient to them. It is not as big of a deal in Aliso woods as the trails are wider ( I moved to South Laguna 3 years ago so I go now to Aliso Woods). But back to Laguna Wilderness Park, Emerald Catlin, Ridge snd the trails leading to Willow Canyon ( El Toro) were once charming, intimate trails within the bucolic hills and valleys now it is such a mountain biker paradise that trails ( not fire roads where rangers in their trucks travel) I used to hike the dirt is so worn, gravely, and slippery from bike riders’ wheels digging into the earth. You can imagine how some of the less traveled trails must look. Yes, even hikers’ feet are capable of damaging the habitat —I get it —but wheels constantly digging deep into the soil is worst. In 2016 one bike rider was tearing down a trail at breakneck speed and almost ran me down as I was ascending the main Emerald Canyon trail which is quite narrow , without even an apology. I reported it to my friend Laura Cohen, one of the rangers at Nature Nix —at first I hesitated to call as she might deem me a “crank”—but I was pleasantly surprised she took my complaint quite seriously and wanted to know what exact time as they have cameras in that area. She wholeheartedly agreed with me that bikers are taking advantage of the area and hikers, and almost running over hikers without warning is not practicing trail etiquette. The reason I bring this up is after years of keeping my mouth shut ,and complaining only to my fellow hikers I walked with, is a takeover of the hills by mountain bikers, and they are not respecting the trails and worse —forget about the person who almost ran over me as it is secondary with what the bikers are doing to the wilderness. Due to the influx of bikers and also I will include hikers in the mix, one sees fewer animals and worse people bring their dogs (domestic), and rangers warn hikers that they scare off the wild animals. Not to mention all the new home construction around all Orange County that has destroyed animals’ homes and we see more coyotes now inhabiting urban spaces because of it. We need to remember these wilderness areas that we walk and bike on, we all share, but it is THE HOME OF THE WILDLIFE.
    Let me say one about calling out only the RADS, who until I read this article I never heard of, but the poster not the RAD representative who said they knew it was not the RADS who tore up that PG area or the area Tex is featured in the photo, I agree my main problem is not with the 55 year old bike rider, but the whipper snapper who bushwhacks down the hills, almost runs hikers over, and is arrogant about his/her ownership of the hills and trails. What to do? Like one poster I think there should be some trails dedicated to bike riders. If you do try to construct new ones would be better, but the problem is you are digging into the wilderness. BTW, I have hiked all over the world, Middle East, Southeast Asia ( Myanmar), Northern Europe, Central America ( a lot of time spent in Costa Rica and Panama in the 90s), Mexico, Sierras in Oaxaca ( Indian country), Utah and Nevada, and South Africa ( Capetown, gnarly hike). It was in Lapland I think where I saw they constructed a bike trail or plural bike trails so it can be done and friends have even mentioned such creation too.

    But really do we need these kind of mountain bikers that want to act like the late Evil Kneevil, and tear up the natural beauty of our OC wilderness areas so they can satisfy their narcissistic adrenaline rush —No we don’t and shouldn’t. Seeing that the Trump administration and past Republican administrations have cut funding to parks there has been a reduction in employees who monitor (chose that word as the bad connotations the words “police “ and “surveil” carry). In light of understaffed parks, there should be esthetically designed signs that more or less in the following ask bike riders to behave courteously and remember they share the trail with hikers ( needs rewording but giving a general idea what could be posted) . I donate to Nix Nature Center, Laguna Wilderness Foundation, and Crystal Cove Foundation so I put my money where my mouth is. There are from time to time inclusion in the donation requests from these three foundations that have mentioned that bike riders need to respect the trails so it isn’t just a “ nothing better to do with one’s time” gripe of Tex and me. I donate to these foundations to help maintain the beauty and the environmentally safe maintenance of these lands, I am asking for mountain bike riders to honor my request or all of our requests to respect the wild habitat. I rest my case.

    Tex, here is one of my email address if you care to come up with ideas to curb some of these problems that you raise or anyone else that has any fruitful ideas as it is a growing problem. [email protected].

    Best,

    Diane Shammas, PhD

  11. It goes both ways. When I call out to hikers that I am “passing on the left” at least half of them step to the left in response, some give you the hairy eyeball or an unkind word for interrupting “their” experience, and a few get it right. My cowbell on the other hand gets a better reaction across the board. It seems like no one wants to be “told what to do” nowadays and most people seem to be in a continual state of righteous indignation, and that’s how many respond to “passing on your left” no matter how cheery I am when I give it. So maybe add some signage educating hikers next to the proposed signage for bikers (no earphones while hiking needs to be included).

    Of course mountain bike trails have an impact but by far the worst offenders when it comes to environmental impact are the fire and access roads. Yes, there are some mountain bikers out there who are unaware of the mutual respect concept, but I’ve experienced poor behavior from hikers as well when I’m on a bike.

    It’s possible that what’s really going on here isn’t a deep concern for the environment but one group of people feeling that they have the moral high ground over another, who happen to enjoy the outdoors in a different fashion. If you care about the issue of trail access “for all” then it might be productive to lobby for directional and/or enough suitable bike-only trails, some mixed use trails, and some hiking only trails, because if there really is a problem, then maybe it’s that we don’t provide enough support to the mountain bike community relative to the mountain biking potential of Orange County. Or maybe just work on getting all trail users to be more civil and empathetic to the concept of, it’s not (always) all about you.

    As far as kids doing what kids do on trails….good luck with that. And what do we expect the second order effect of pushing them off trails would be? After all, kids are kids and they need a place to burn off energy, and I’d rather have them enjoying the outdoors than spending all their time trying to have fun in urban areas or gaming.

    I’m an avid hiker and backpacker as well as an avid mountain biker, so maybe its easier for me to empathize with both perspectives, but restricting one group’s access to fit the preferences of another doesn’t seem like the most evolved way to proceed.

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