Nearly 400 people representing these groups met last month at a packed public hearing to decide if mountain bikers would be given the green light to use a proposed Valley-to-Skyline trail through the park. The proposed trail has become a lightning rod for mountain bike critics, particularly equestrians, who showed up in droves at the hearing to oppose any park access for the bikers, who they say terrorize hikers and scare their horses.
The county Parks and Recreation Commission was meeting to hear comment about a draft master plan for Huddart and Wunderlich parks that includes the mountain bike trail from Woodside through Huddart and on to Skyline Boulevard. The trail would begin at the park's Greer Road entrance, continue on park roads (legal for bikes) to the main entrance on Kings Mountain Road, where it would link to a new trail south of the road along Squealer Gulch as it made its way to Skyline.
The trail is a good idea, and it would not intrude on Huddart horse trails, despite the contention of many of the 34 people who testified, who said they oppose allowing bikes in the park at all. Another 30 will speak this week when the hearing resumes in the supervisors chambers at County Center in Redwood City. At the March 22 meeting, parks director Dave Holland wisely advised the commission to sidestep the issue for now and simply adopt a new master plan without the bike trail.
That was the right move. And we support Mr. Holland's suggestion that the commission appoint a committee to study all the trails in the area before settling on the Squealer Gulch route for bikes. We hope the committee will have strong contributors from the cycling, hiking and horse-riding communities who are committed to compromise. Nothing could be worse than a committee report that excludes one group or another from its fair share of park access.
Probably the best trail solution is to separate the equestrian and bicycling groups as much as possible. Each side has totally contrary objectives when they are on the trail. Many cyclists prefer to ride in groups on single-track routes with steep elevation changes, which can propel riders downhill at 20 miles per hour or more. Equestrians like wider, more level trails and say that when they encounter speeding bikes their spooked horses can throw a rider and cause serious injury. Hikers are easier to please, but most often side with the equestrians in this argument.
Into this volatile mix, toss the town of Woodside, whose Town Council voted to formerly oppose any new trailhead at the park's Greer Road entrance, due to lack of facilities. Woodside already suffers from a huge influx of road bikers, who clog streets and have been known to disobey traffic signs when they visit the town on their weekend rides.
But like it or not, Woodside sits at the confluence of some of the best cycling roads and trails on the Peninsula. The challenge for a blue ribbon trails committee will be to find a balance, so each user group gains a fair share of access to Huddart and a Valley-to-Skyline trail.
We sympathize with horse riders who say they find rogue cyclists on trails that are off limits to bikes, which can put equestrians in a very dangerous situation. But enforcement is up to park rangers and the bike community. As Mr. Holland suggests, the county should strongly consider opening an off-road bike route south of the park. It would give cyclists a route to Skyline from the main Huddart entrance and Kings Mountain Road, and access to park roads if they wanted to reach the valley floor.
Huddart access for equestrians wouldn't change, and the new Squealer Gulch trail should keep rogue bike riders off the park's horse trails.
Somehow, the county parks system needs to provide opportunities to all user groups, even if it means adjusting access for some. And horse riders have to understand that all cyclists are not outlaws, just as cyclists must understand that all equestrians are not demanding exclusive rights to all of Huddart Park.