The winding trails through a back country park offer a thrill-ride for mountain bikers: wooden bridges, wooden jump-ramps and, for convenience, sandbag-reinforced trail connections.
There’s only one problem. The trails are illegal.
“There’s several trails connecting all the way up the slope — a steep slope,” said Vicky Malton, senior ranger at Limestone Canyon & Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. “All this is on parkland.”
The trails on an acre or more of land on the Limestone portion of the park, which is closed to the public. They were discovered by biologists in early December, and will begin to be dismantled Saturday by volunteers. The Irvine Ranch Conservancy is calling for volunteers to take shovels to the trails and rip out the carefully crafted bridges and ramps.
“This is kind of uncommon for us here at Whiting,” Malton said.
The trails, which cut through an area once thick with brush, were carved out of the landscape after the 2007 Santiago Fire.
Not only could they potentially increase erosion by channeling stormwater, but they were also cut through prime nesting territory for the troubled California cactus wren. In a few cases, the trails are cut through cactus patches that might otherwise have regenerated.
Wildfire has hit the wren’s coastal populations hard in recent years, the likely reason for a nosedive in the bird’s population.
“They did take sensitive habitat,” Malton said.
David Raetz, deputy director at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, pointed out areas of erosion caused by the illegal trails on a visit to the site Tuesday. In some sections of trail cut directly across patches of burned prickly pear cactus, some of the cactus had been dug out to make way for the trail.
In other areas, the burned crowns of native shrubs, which can resprout after fire, also were damaged by the trail work.
The people who built the illegal trails seem especially aggressive, Malton and Raetz said, breaking nearby homeowner association locks to get to the site and tearing down “do not enter” signs almost as quickly as parks officials can put them up.
Volunteers from Oakley will take part in dismantling the illegal trails. The event begins at 8 a.m. Saturday. Find sign-up information at the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks Web site.