The Blog Slog
Dec 31, 2013

Henry Cowell Trail Closures

Finally figured out what is going on in Yetiman's hood. The strange trail closures we've been seeing in Henry Cowell are due to an environmentalist project started back in 2004 called The Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.).
Posted by: sstewart
Hey Dirt-Dogs:

Finally figured out what is going on in Yetiman's hood. The strange trail closures we've been seeing in Henry Cowell are due to an environmentalist project started back in 2004 called The Sandhills Alliance for Natural Diversity (S.A.N.D.).

There are many more organizations now involved since this is actually a pretty lucrative business for consultants and other professionals that align themselves with, and lobby to, state and local government agencies. Who in turn, pass the laws that "protect" these lands.

In this particular case, the groups have formed a Land Trust Conservancy and have raised over $5M since 2011 to support their cause and purchase smaller pieces of these lands for their trust.  The way the land acquisition component works is that, whether private or public land, the laws are such that the land owner must mitigate the threats to the protected plants and animals or face fines and penalties from both the state and county. In many cases, doing so is very costly, so many smaller parcels go up for sale. And, naturally, the Land Trust pics them up at bargain prices in the name of conservancy.

Here are the major players:

There are about 4000-acres of this unique land type called "Zayante Soils" in the region of Santa Cruz from Castle Rock to Wilder Ranch. The Cowell area we like so much is actually a vacant state-owned parcel adjacent to the northern boundary of the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Cal Parks & Rec has jurisdiction over the property, same folks as Cowell Redwoods State Park.

So, they didn't have enough money to do much during the middle of the recession, but last year the Land Trust of Santa Cruz, which is basically the same people that run the S.A.N.D. organization, rounded up another $3M in government grants and donations and begin the closure methods we've been scratching our heads over. They call this method of so-called protection, "Brushed-In." Meaning they cut brush and cover the trails. In this case, they also call healthy full-grown trees and the very plant species they're trying to preserve, "brush."

While the Trust has no stewardship responsibility over the Cowell parcel, the Parks & Rec, as well as Fish & Game are on board with the plan, as is the county of Santa Cruz. So, Parks & Rec are doing their "preservation" work because we (Mountain Bikes) are considered one of the many "threats" to the sensitive habitat and must be kept out at all costs. Of course, the usual endangered species of plants and animals are in play here. This particular case even has a couple of new protected species of plants and animals. They do consider hikers and equestrians threats also, but mountain bikes are a more serious threat, of course. The plan identifies about 40 sites in Santa Cruz county that are to be "protected." And, eventually that plan will be expanded or some other type of land will get on their radar screen. It's really big business for the professional environmentalist.

Now, it's interesting to note that they are supposed to be preserving and conserving these areas. Many of us have seen the ugly effects of their conservancy efforts. In fact, Yetiman and I witnessed the bulldozer "conservation" technique, which completely devastated a 25-ft wide and quarter mile long uphill section of one of the trails that we sometimes rode up to the top on. The devastation was so bad you can't even recognize the area anymore. The trees, brush, and manzanita damage was like scorched earth. You can still see the effects of this if you get up to the top. Interesting conservation techniques, for sure. In my estimation, the devastation they have created in an attempt to restrict access to taxpayer-funded land is far and away worse than anything hikers, horses, or mountain bikes could possibly do--in a lifetime!

Last Sunday we scouted a bit more on the original trail we used to always take up the west side of the hill and then bomb down the sandy trail to where we'd always regroup before taking the "technical" trail east. Sunday we witnessed much more destruction and devastation of brush and large trees. They cut down many very large trees in hopes of blocking this very cool trail that had been there for at least 25-years that I know of. Actually, they did a pretty good job in terms of making it a partial hike-a-bike. You can still get through, but there is a felled tree every 200-ft or so. And, now there is a new trail that goes from the largest tree fall, around lower on the hill, and connects to the same trail very near the big log pile section towards the bottom.

The good news is that they don't seem to be concerned with the surrounding areas of the parcel. Of course, all of it is technically off-limits, but the--so far--have only focused on four major trail closures, all of which lead to the top of the hill. Strangely, there is still one trail open that leads to the top. It's one of the hardest, but it's still ridable all the way up. The attached map shows what Parks & Rec has stated is off limits. The other trails, while still illegal, have been left untouched so far. I'm surprised they've left the far-south descent trail un-scorched, it pretty much traverses the best part of what they are trying to preserve.

I just don't get environmentalists sometimes. I mean, I get that we need to preserve endangered species, of course; what I don't get is how those trails being there put anything at risk. Yea, we might run over a beetle or rat now and then, but I've been riding there for over 20 years and never noticed doing so. Yea, I've seen the beetles, and I've seen the plants, but I would seriously argue that human recreation in these areas have any meaningful impact on the habitat. If so, then they need to levy heavy posthumous fines on the Indian tribes that lived and traveled all through the areas less than a century ago. Heck, they probably ate the beetles, grasshoppers, and plants!

So, the good news is we can still get away with riding around the "protected" area as you can see on the attached map, at least for a while. The bad news is that this kind of "environmental protection" advocacy (and hypocrisy) continues to grow and prosper. In fact, all of the professional people in these organizations make a very good living doing this kind of thing. In fact, one of the key player's company has a two-employee 401K plan valued at nearly $1M in 2011.

So now, the Cowell Sand Hill area will just sit there with as little human interaction as possible, for who knows how many years. All the while, taxpayers like us will continue to fund its stewardship by both government and these so-called conservationists. Yes, they can access these lands anytime they want in the interest of stewardship and management. Of course, they won't be riding mountain bikes, they'll be "working." Sort of like an exclusive club...If you're a member, you are granted access to the lands that the taxpayer paying for it is denied. Interesting, isn't it?

Okay, shut-up and ride!


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