At least 50 people, including many riding mountain bikes, gathered outside Laguna Beach City Hall during the city council meeting Tuesday to protest OC Parks’ decommissioning of a local trail.
They earned honks from passing cars while hoisting signs that read “Make Laguna Shreddy Again” and “Embrace 30+ Years Laguna Beach Mt. Biking Don’t Criminalize!”
Members of the Laguna Beach mountain biking community were dismayed to learn in early June that OC Parks started to decommission an unpermitted trail, known to outdoor enthusiasts as PG’s Trail, east of the 2900 block of Laguna Canyon Road.
“The City needs to understand what mountain biking means to its community and how they contribute without having anything invested into our interests,” Laguna Beach-based mountain biker Hans Rey wrote in an email. “They cannot just pass the buck to OC Parks, they need to understand how valuable all this is and how we contribute in a way, many artists can’t keep up with.”
Mountain bikers like Rey argue that local government agencies have failed over the last 30 years to permit and build a sufficient number of trails to accommodate the sport’s international draw to Laguna Beach.
OC Parks said in a statement that it’s obligated under agreements with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to maintain habitat for endangered flora and fauna living within in the park.
Laguna Canyon Wilderness Park was founded to protect habitat for endangered and threatened species living in habitat such as coastal sage scrub. Some of these species are found nowhere else but in the wilderness outside Laguna Beach, said Hallie Jones, executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
“OC Parks has an obligation to protect this very sensitive habitat, these parks were preserved as wilderness parks, not as recreation parks,” Jones said. “Our right to recreate in them comes second to the environmental value.”
Rey claims that the way OC Parks decommissions trails negatively impacts the environment more than it helps.
“Huge holes were dug up (which will turn into deep ruts and could potentially cause a mudslide), but the environment 50 [to] 100 feet each side of the trail was disturbed by gathering rocks, branches, [and] cactus… to block the trail,” Rey wrote in an email.
As a response to Rey’s comment, OC Parks spokesperson Marisa O’Neil outlined the agency’s standards practices.
“Decompacting trail tread is a common technique used to close trails,” O’Neil wrote in an email. “Shallow holes are dug the length of the trail in order to trap native seeds and water in order to initiate and speed up the restoration process. Additionally, the trail tread is broken up with pickaxes and native seeds and cactus are added along the trail tread.”
This clash between some mountain bikers and environmentalists isn’t a new phenomenon, Jones said.
“There has been a history of a lack of collaboration between the environmental community and the mountain biking community that impacts our ability to protect the land that we all love,” Jones said.
Some of the mountain bikers who organized Tuesday’s protest argue that the time has come for Laguna Beach to take a more active role in supporting mountain bikers and lobby county officials to establish authorized trails that don’t run through sensitive habitat.
“We were told that PG’s Trail was destroyed because they had to do something about unauthorized trail building,” Laguna Beach resident Jesse Peterson wrote in a statement. “Well, PG’s is over 20 years old as proven by historic satellite imagery, so that trail should not have gotten treated the way it did.”
Although Peterson admits that safety is usually not one of the things not associated with their sport, mountain bikers would like to see the perception changed through advocacy. He argues that if city officials could help build a bike-specific park that would decrease the amount of traffic on the multi-use trails.
“It would be nice if the City of Laguna Beach would emphatically join us as we try to protect and enhance off-road bicycling in the area,” Peterson wrote.