Orange County panel hears gripes on mountain biking mishaps

A mountain biker pedals on the ridge above Telonics Trail on May 19, 2020. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Hikers exasperated with a hard-charging segment of the mountain biking community urged OC Parks staffers to devote more resources to enforcing trail rules at the Coastal Greenbelt Authority’s meeting on Wednesday.

The panel overseeing the management of 22,000 acres of open space divided between Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons wilderness park received an update from OC Parks deputy director Pam Passow on a pilot program that reserves two public trails for only downhill mountain biking. Orange County parks commissioners approved the program in June as a possible solution to speeding mountain bikers colliding or nearly colliding with hikers.

OC Parks has partnered with Utah State University researchers to collect and analyze data on who is using certain trails and if they were using them as designated by the pilot program, Passow said. The researchers will present their findings during a County Parks Commission subcommittee meeting at 7 p.m on Dec. 1 at OC Parks headquarters, 13042 Old Myford Rd. in Irvine.

Hikers like Peggy Koyama say a sliver of the mountain biking community feels entitled to go as fast they want downhill and there are simply not enough OC park rangers to write tickets. A speeding bicyclist recently came within a foot of hitting Koyama while she was hiking near a blind turn on Lizard Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness.

“I realize the bureaucracy of the whole situation and I realize they don’t have the bodies to enforce the rules,” she said.

County officials should require mountain bikers to mount bells on their bikes so hikers can hear them coming and step out of the way, Koyama said. She acknowledged this would likely become another unenforceable rule in the backcountry.

Mark Goodley, a mountain biker and hiker, said it’s unreasonable to expect bikers to obey a 10 mile per hour on the grades seen in the OC Parks trail system.

“The bottom line is you’re going to have to segregate people,” he said. “You can’t have people going that fast at that grade in combination with all of the hikers.”

He added that County officials are at risk of being liable in the event someone dies in a trail collision because they’ve failed to mitigate the risk to public safety.

Last year, OC Parks experienced a surge of visitors during the pandemic as the public sought safe outdoor activities. Laguna Beach mayor Bob Whalen has recommended city staffers work with the County to make sure city-owned land that’s managed by the County is being used in a safe way. Assistant city manager Ken Domer has been coordinating these efforts since he joined Laguna Beach in June.

Eight OC park rangers recently started their academy training, OC Parks Division Manager John Gannaway. They’ve already received an orientation of the wilderness park trails from the Laguna Canyon Foundation and will soon start their field training program.

Helmet camera video of mountain bikers mocking startled hikers was shared during the Greenbelt Authority’s meeting on Wednesday.

“This is what we are seeing every time we’re going out on the trails,” Hiker Armando Nunez said. “I encourage OC Parks to please put some enforcement on that 10 miles per hour because it’s not happening today.”

Despite these antics broadcasted on Youtube, SHARE Mountain Bike Club continues to promote safe and respectful biking behavior and advised county officials on what trails would be good candidates for the pilot program, club president Steve Larson said.

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  1. Orange County Parks should be applauded for implementing a pilot to test solutions for trail conflict in a time of increased need for outdoor spaces. It also should be reported that there are hiker only trails in OCP that pre-date this program, there were no bike only trails. Finally, the community should be aware that over ten thousand bells have already been donated for trail safety and from the mountain biking community. A group who in majority also continues to promote positive trail etiquette practices.

  2. Hikers are not saints either. A few months ago my 12 year old son was biking down a trail, and it was crowded so my son was not even close to doing 10 miles per hour and the hiker told my son to, “watch out asshole.” My son was really hurt by the comment and it took me some time to get me to convince him that he did nothing wrong and the fella must have had a bad experience or a bad day.

  3. Orange County is lacking in leadership when it comes to this issue. OC needs to be far more proactive in the safety of all that use the trails. Compared to many smaller and less resource driven areas OC has trails that are very unsafe. They are not maintained at all and rather than work with the local trail community groups to build and sustain safer trails they fight them.

    By leaving the trails as is they are far more dangerous and unsafe for hikers and bikers.

    There are counties all over the US that are embracing and building purpose built MTB trails. All you have to do is watch a few YouTube videos to see it. They are professionally built and maintained. They are safer. They separate bikers from hikers.

    I’d encourage OC rather than pay for surveys to actually do something. Hikers and bikers will be on the same trails until more purpose built trails are made. That’s for the benefit of both hikers and bikers.

    Articles like this will only fuel the fire that there’s a problem when in fact the problem is not the hikers or bikers it’s OC parks lack of attention and vision. Please OC parks watch videos from Seattle, North Carolina, Arkansas, San Diego…and then keep looking as you’ll see trails that are so well groomed it’ll make you want to be like them. Oh…and yes hikers don’t get a hall pass…they are on the wrong trails, walk 3-4 wide covering the entire trail, have full headsets on so they cannot hear and are just as arrogant as the bikers they feel are in the wrong.

    OC parks…start building!!!! That’s the only way to solve this problem.

  4. Oc parks maybe make the unmarked trails legal and mtb only? Easy solution that they don’t want to fix because they love the ticket money.


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