Issue date: February 02, 2000
By MARION SOFTKY
Peninsula trail lovers are up in arms over San Francisco's latest efforts to make it inconvenient, if not impossible, for hikers, riders and bicyclists to traverse its 23,000-acre Peninsula watershed along a service road above and away from the lakes that form a small part of the local water supply.
Their voices will be heard loudly at two hearings being held this week to take public testimony on a draft environmental impact report (EIR) on the Peninsula Watershed Management Plan. The report was issued by the San Francisco Planing Department on December 18.
While the plan proposes four alternatives for the public to travel the 10 miles from Route 92 to connect with the Bay Area Ridge Trail at the northern boundary of the watershed along Fifield/Cahill Ridge, it also proposes strict controls over anyone who ventures onto its closely guarded lands.
Under alternatives A and B, which would provide "unrestricted public access to hikers, bicyclists and equestrians," trail users would have to check in with a ranger equipped with walkie-talkie every two or three miles. They might also be subject to 24-hour surveillance by video cameras at sensitive places along the gravel road. In addition, the trail would be closed from May 15 to August 15 to protect endangered marble murrelets, which -- trail advocates say -- nest in old-growth redwoods elsewhere on the watershed.
Many trail supporters see the proposed restrictions as overkill in a last-ditch fight by the San Francisco Water Department to defend the sanctity of its watershed against threats from the uncontrolled public.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on January 25 authorized a letter to San Francisco urging the opening of the Ridge Trail, at least in phases, as soon as reasonably possible. It offered to share with San Francisco the responsibility for improvements, operation and maintenance of the trail, as well as its cost. "We further believe that some type of access should be provided as soon as feasible," their letter said.
Calling the EIR "riddled with inaccuracies and unsupported conclusions," the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council called for a public outcry at this week's meetings in San Mateo and San Francisco. "The water department has delayed this for three years," said council chairman Doug Kerseg of Foster City. "Like other watersheds throughout America, we believe the Crystal Springs Watershed can simultaneously serve the recreational needs of the public and the needs of water consumers."
Jean Rusmore of Ladera, another backer of the Ridge Trail circling the Bay along ridge tops for 400 miles, contrasted the proposed alignment of the Ridge Trail with the Sawyer Camp Trail, which is traveled by thousands every decent weekend. "Water quality is not damaged by Sawyer Camp Trail, which is right next to the lake," she said. "This trail is 1,000 feet up and a mile away. It's wide; it's all graveled; it's used by service trucks and heavy utility vehicles. There is not a bit of untouched dirt on the road."
This week's meetings culminate a long process that goes back to the late William Penn Mott's dream of a Ridge Trail that would allow bikers, hikers and horseback riders to follow scenic ridge tops around the Bay.
Since 1987, Ridge Trail advocates have been slowly accumulating stretches of the trail through parks, open space, watersheds and private lands. Some 225 miles are already in place, says Mrs. Rusmore. But not the section through San Francisco's Peninsula Watershed.
In 1992 the Water Department began the planning process leading to the present management plan and EIR. Numerous public meetings and hearings were held throughout the county, asking residents what they wanted for the 23,000 wild acres that surround Crystal Springs and San Andreas lakes, and help protect some of the water supply for 2.4 million people in San Francisco, the Peninsula and the East Bay.
Most attention focused on proposals for the Ridge Trail and for a public golf course in the southern watershed near Woodside. Last June, after years of fierce controversy, Mayor Willie Brown signed a unanimous resolution adopted by the San Francisco Supervisors that would bar any new golf course in the watershed.
Previously, in April 1997, the San Francisco supervisors had unanimously endorsed public recreational access to the watershed along the interior Fifield/Cahill Ridge service road. And, trail supporters like to repeat, the supervisors asked that access rules be relaxed within 30 days.
"Use of this trail will not harm water quality," Mrs. Rusmore concluded. "It could become part of the greater Bay Area hiking system. I think it could be a real draw for outdoor visitors."