Aug 21

Parker Ranch Closed

Parker Ranch, located in the city of Saratoga nestled in behind the Golf Course and Fremont Older, has been an underground destination for advanced mountain bikers for years. I have heard anecdotally that cyclists have been riding the trails there since the nineties, and that the recent incantation of the trail was so popular that some cyclists considered buying homes to be within riding distance of that trail. The trail, located on private property under a conservation easement, is now closed. Please do not ride this trail.The latest version of the trail consisted of more than a dozen jumps, some 30 or more banked turns called �berms� and three wooden structures including a teeter tooter, something that looked like a giant tortoise shell about two feet high and four feet wide, and a �skinny� consisting of four or more 1x8s in a row. All of the above created a riding experience unlike anything I have experienced in the bay area � it was at least as much fun as a roller coaster.

Parker Ranch is an upscale housing development built on a subdivided ranch. Part of the deal for the subdivision was a conservation easement on the steep side slopes where nothing could be built, as well as a twenty foot wide trail easement. The deed states the trail is for hiking and equestrian use only. The land was deeded prior to the conception of modern mountain biking.

The alignment of the purpose built mountain bike trail resides outside the trail easement and within the conservation easement where any development is prohibited for the city, as well as the residents who actually own the land. The trail literally crosses through their back yards, and that is the crux of the issue.

Recently the residents became aware of the trail. At a meeting on August 7th, four or five mountain bikers, about 10 residents and 5 city staff met to discuss the problem and address ways to remediate the situation.

Parker Ranch residents expressed their concerns in a rational, reasonable way. Their concerns were construction noise including nighttime construction with hammering and pounding. It is possible that the teeter totter resetting itself was mistaken for this. Parker Ranch is in a horseshoe shaped valley that acts like a natural amphitheater. Standing at the top of the trail, I could hear kids talking in quiet voices and splashing in a pool hundreds of yards away. It is no surprise that they also complained about noisy riders. The builders tried to keep the noise down by hanging signs asking riders to not use profanity and keep their voices down.

There was a fair amount of concern about environmental damage to heritage trees. The trail was not built by an arborist, so there are some exposed roots and some places where dirt is inappropriately piled up on the roots. Both of these can result in killing the tree. Generally speaking the trail is well built including culverts to drain some of the bigger banked turns, and the trail goes along the contour line at less than a 10% grade with adequate outslope. The illegal bike trail is better maintained and drained than the city of Saratoga�s hiking and equestrian trail, the top of which is overly steep and goes straight down the fall line, resulting in erosion undercutting Picea Road. All that great brushing recently became apparent to one neighbor who complained about bushes cut down near their driveway and concerns about privacy.

Lastly, and most importantly they were concerned about injuries happening on their private property that would result in lawsuits. Despite the fact that they are less liable when people are trespassing, it does not prevent people from suing which can result in astronomical legal costs and loss of property insurance. One way land owners can help protect themselves is by posting �no trespassing� and �no bikes� signs. Signs were posted, but the signs have been consistently torn down, probably by cyclists.

A few cyclists built an illegal trail on private property. Perhaps some others have disrespected the efforts of the land owners to post signs to limit their liability. Mountain bikers have wronged these people. Recently the city checked to see how much it would cost to have a contractor come in now and restore the trail to a natural side slope. The estimate was around $60,000. That is a lot of money even for a city.

I personally believe that when I wrong someone, it is my responsibility to make it right. While I did not build the trail and I doubt any ROMP members were involved, it will be land owners and other user groups who will point at us and say that we are criminals. When we break laws and harm private property it is hard to argue with that. I believe it is our responsibility to make the Parker Ranch situation right. I plan on helping the city organize some volunteer days to restore the trail to its natural habitat.

Many cyclists ask me what we are getting in return for restoring the trail. They believe we should get access somewhere else in return. I see it differently. We broke something of someone else�s. We should fix it. We should not expect a reward for doing the right thing. We may generate a little goodwill by doing the right thing. ROMP will work with the city of Saratoga to organize volunteer work days to remove the trail. If you have helped build or have enjoyed this trail, I hope you will find a few hours to make it right.

In the meantime, the city has allocated $5000 to step up sheriffs patrols of the area, install some fencing, remove the wood structures and the jumps. These efforts should be enough make the trail uninteresting enough to keep people out.
In addition, the city seemed ready to move on “putting teeth” into the existing ordinances regarding illegal trail use by upping the fine. The real concern for cyclists is a city-wide ban on bikes that could have profound effects on the on developments around the Sanborn Skyline master plan, which will open almost twenty miles of trails to bikes. Chances are they will increase fines for riding and building illegal trails and not put a city wide ban on bikes on dirt. The legislative process is a slow one and it will take at least half a year before anything takes effect.

Illegal and unauthorized trail use is probably the single biggest problem facing the reputation of mountain bikers everywhere. We can make a difference.