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Illegal bike jumps irk trail users

Shrinking state parks staff means less enforcement
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Paula Campbell has earned a reputation around Folsom Lake State Recreation Area. For some neighbors and fellow equestrians, the reputation of this petite, feisty 64-year-old woman is good. They respect her vigilant efforts to stop illegal activities in the state park. For others, primarily mountain bikers, the reputation is a bad one. She’s the woman ruining their fun. Campbell and her husband have owned their Granite Bay property — near the 20,000-acre Folsom Lake State Recreation Area — for the past 14 years. But they’ve boarded and ridden horses in the area since the 1980s. “This is like our backyard,” she says. “We don’t like to see it destroyed.” What they’re seeing, they say, is illegal trail use and jump building by mountain bikers and an increasingly brazen group of cyclists who disregard the natural habitat they destroy, wildlife they disturb or horses they spook. Over the past two years, Campbell has seen mountain bikers of all ages with shovels and rakes constructing jumps and trails, leaving behind holes that pose danger to horses and hikers. In August, she found a quarter-mile long bike path illegally made on the Western States Pioneer Express Trail that she calls the worst yet. But the economic downtown has left state parks with shrinking budgets and a dwindling ability to staff enough rangers to regularly patrol an area and catch offenders. The Folsom Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition promotes only the legal use of trails, which means the mountain bikers in violation are likely a fringe group unaware or unconcerned with the rules. “We do not condone those individuals who feel that an inequitable allocation of (bike) trails is justification for riding on trails not designated for bikes,” says coalition President Craig Wilson. “We understand their frustration at years of asking for more access, but we do not allow our rides or trail work to go outside the limits placed by State Parks staff.” Park Watch Report, a nonprofit, web-based trail reporting system, received more than 30 incident reports regarding illegal trail use, trail conflict and trail building on the Pioneer Express Trail in 2010, says Jaede Miloslavich, who runs the site. She is also executive director of Action Coalition for Equestrians. The vast majority of park users don’t report anything, Miloslavich says, which means the number of incidents that occur may actually be much higher. This doesn’t sit well with Campbell. “We really care about this (place) and don’t want to see it vandalized,” Campbell says. “They don’t see it that way. They see it as something fun to do. Horse people recognize that mountain bikers need an area to build the technical stuff they want to ride. But this is not the place.” Illegal jumps, trail building On a warm afternoon in early November, Campbell heads out on the Pioneer Express Trail. She points to a signpost that identifies this part of the trail, at the 38.5 mile, as for pedestrians and equestrians. Soon after, a man on a unicycle speeds down the slight incline toward Campbell, who jumps to the side. Seeing her, the cyclist quickly disembarks. She scolds the young man, who later identifies himself as Ben Gillum. “This is an equestrian/pedestrian trail,” Campbell says. She threatens to call the Folsom Lake Trail Patrol, an all-volunteer group that helps monitor the area. Gillum says he is considered a pedestrian — his device lacks a moving gear. Campbell says if she had been riding her horse, the animal would have been scared and possibly hurt. “It’s not my fault if someone wants to bring an animal they can’t control up here," Gillum says, as he walks away. Farther down the trail, trees and foliage have been cut back to clear the way for large jumps built from the mud. Piles of plant clippings sit at the side of the trail. Campbell looks around at the damaged bushes. She expresses concern for the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, a “threatened” species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Previous surveys identified the presence of several elderberry shrubs on a site once proposed for a housing development by the Hofmann Company, which included this area. Elderberry shrubs are considered potential habitat for the beetle and, as such, protected under the act. In 2000, the Hofmann Company abandoned the development plans and sold the land to California State Parks. As for unicyclists, California State Parks Folsom Sector Superintendent Ted Jackson says his division recently developed a new superintendent’s order dealing with the Pioneer Express Trail that specifically addresses unicycles, among several modes of transportation, and states they are not allowed on that section of trail. “Rangers can now write tickets to those who violate the provisions of the (order),” he says. For its part, the Folsom Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition continues to advocate for the building of more bike trails. The group formed in 1988 to construct the first mountain bike trails in Folsom Lake SRA near the Salmon Falls Bridge called the Darrington and Sweetwater Trails. The group has since worked closely with State Parks to maintain and repair these trails. “That small band of dedicated mountain bikers has swelled over the past couple of decades to thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who love to ride the trails around Folsom Lake,” Wilson says. “But the number of miles of trails available to us has not increased at all.” Shrinking state park staff California State Parks needs to make $14.2 million in budget cuts this fiscal year. To meet a portion of this reduction, Folsom Lake SRA is implementing a service reduction plan, which involves shortening operating hours and keeping peace officer positions — rangers and lifeguards — vacant. Although Folsom Lake is budgeted for 20 officers in the governor’s budget, the sector has needed to make changes to stay within the budget allocated by California State Parks. “Folsom is the largest sector within the Gold Fields District and has the most positions, so typically that has meant keeping ranger and other maintenance positions vacant at Folsom Lake to generate the salary savings necessary to live within our budget,” Jackson says. This past year, seven ranger positions were kept vacant. During the non-peak fall and winter seasons, peace officer staffing in Folsom Lake SRA has fluctuated between two and five officers per shift. Availability of staff is further complicated by the need to allow for scheduled vacations and reduce large overtime balances accumulated during busy spring and summer months. With fewer rangers to enforce park rules, it’s up to visitors to behave. Donna Williams, a volunteer with Park Watch Report, says over the long term, pedestrians, equestrians and bicyclists must find mutually beneficial ways to enjoy and respect state parks, and each other. “We have to work together,” Williams says. “We all pay for the parks and we want young kids to learn about parks (and) appreciate them. We have to find solutions, and we can make it happen.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- To report illegal use of California State Parks, visit www.parkwatchreport.org.