Equestrians worry about culture, trail conflicts


Click on picture to enlarge.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Equestrians from Portola Valley and nearby communities seem nettled, in part by the prospect of students frequenting a trail along the south side of Alpine Road, and in part by the prospect of a new charter for the town's Trails Committee.

The charter is scheduled for discussion by the Town Council on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at the council's 7:30 p.m. meeting in the Historic Schoolhouse at 765 Portola Road.

The Trails Committee allows equestrians and other trail users to communicate with the council and the community. But the committee has "lacked good representation from the full array of trail users in town, including hikers, parents of schoolchildren, dog walkers, cyclists and others," Mayor Steve Toben told The Almanac.

At the council's Sept. 8 meeting, a room full of equestrians complained about having not seen proposed revisions to the charter, including an emphasis on student use of trails. The council asked the committee for its own suggestions, which it provided on Sept. 14. The language singling out student priorities has been deleted, Mr. Toben said.

Other issues of equestrian concern include the trail around Town Center and the importance of horse culture to the town's ethic. Horses keep the parcels large and the atmosphere rural, the equestrians said.

Horses are a "keystone species" to the town's culture, which needs protection in a changing world, said former Trails Committee chair Mary Hufty, who agreed to speak to The Almanac on behalf of equestrians.

"People are so used to being the keystone species that they forget the impact that another keystone species might have," she added.

The trail

Students are at the heart of the Alpine Road trail matter. Though not on the council's agenda for Sept. 22, the dirt trail between Roberts market and the Alpine Hills Swim & Tennis Club may come up.

The town has tentative plans to resurface this trail with crushed rock, replacing the peppering of small rocks and possibly making it more inviting to students pulling wheeled backpacks: more roll, less bounce.

For Corte Madera Middle School students, this trail is a natural route to the Alpine Hills club for after-school sports lessons or to meet family members. It is one of several trails identified by a coalition of residents as safe routes to and from school. The idea: more students walking and biking to school and fewer being hauled around by their parents.

But having more students on this trail might create tensions with equestrians. The stretch across from Roberts is particularly high and narrow. It's fenced on one side and bordered on the other by an abrupt, steep grassy slope about 10 feet high. A spooked horse could get out of control and go plunging down the slope and on to the road.

Bikes are another complication. While they are not allowed on this trail, kids bike there anyway. How would they respond to a smoother surface?

There is a competing safety issue: The other side of Alpine Road has an asphalt trail, perfect for rolling backpacks. But to get to the club, students would have to cross Alpine at Portola Road and re-cross at Golden Oak Drive, where the crosswalk has blind curves in both directions and traffic traveling at 35 mph or more.

"I really believe (the Golden Oak crosswalk) is the most dangerous area we have in all of town," Councilman Driscoll said in an interview.

Something's got to give. For equestrians who stable their horses east of Los Trancos Road, the Alpine Road trail is a vital link to Windy Hill and Coalmine Ridge, Ms. Hufty noted.

If there are known times when students are likely to be on the trail, the equestrians could agree to avoid the trail then, Ms. Hufty said. Students should be educated about equestrian safety concerns, she added.

In an interview, Mayor Toben noted just such a compromise as a way forward. The bunches of cyclists who regularly crowd Alpine and Portola roads have published their schedules on the town's website to let equestrians know when they're coming through. "The equestrians were thrilled," Mr. Toben said. "That's how one shares a community resource."

Necessity drove this case. In November 2009, two horses on Portola Road panicked and galloped off with a group of northbound cyclists. The cyclists did not slow down, according to three accounts of the incident.

One equestrian was immediately thrown to the road and suffered a broken bone; the other rider, who was reportedly pleading with the cyclists to stop, managed to stay mounted until the whole group came to an uphill section and the horses slowed.

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Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Equestrians are so selfish. Of course students should have priority! If equestrians can't share the trails with students, they should use other trails until the trails can be widened.

Like this comment
Posted by Hiker
a resident of Woodside: other
on Sep 21, 2010 at 1:28 pm

It's just like the bike/car argument: a few high-and-mighty equestrians ruin it for the rest of 'em. Most of the riders I have met are perfectly nice, and seem genuinely happy to see a pedestrian out enjoying the trails too. But a few have the "I'm going to ride a large, nervous, unpredictable animal along shared public trails, and therefore they're really my trails" attitude.

Can't we all share?

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Peace and love, Hiker.
I have lived in Woodside and in my even more "elite" area which was bought for privacy, I have a first hand knowledge about how most people really think about "outsiders". The jokes snobbism is so antiquated and is growing with the population growth.
Listening to some people talking about how glad they were about the recesssion and the foreclosures outside the area, was disgusting, so I grabbed my Mark Cross bag and left in my new Tesla sports.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent #2
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 22, 2010 at 9:57 am

I agree with Hiker. Can't we all share? School hours are regular; equestrians could ride trails outside of school hours. I love that students are getting themselves around town on foot and bike. Don't we want our students to be self-sufficient and responsible while getting exercise? Isn't it nice to think about keeping some cars off the road because parents don't have to drive their kids from school to an after-school activity?

Like this comment
Posted by AlpineTraveler
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I recall that PV had accepted the offer for Stanford to build the promised trail portion in PV. The article does not mention that pending "Trail" change. (Maybe either party changed their mind about the $$.)

Like this comment
Posted by Randy Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Sep 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm
I am a professional trail builder.
Two points:
Covering the trail with gravel is problematic for two reasons. First, once it is installed it will have to be maintained yearly or it will look unsightly, second, it is actually more slippery. Third, try rolling a rollerbag on gravel,you won't do it for long. I say either leave it natural or pave it.

Second, the best solution to address trail conflicts is more trail, this provides less people per mile, you might even try side by side trail, or passing areas. More trail is a permanent solution, more value. More regulation means more angst and the need to enforce. More hassle, less value.
Randy Martin

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Oh my, an original ideal. Can't we get along! I fully agree, get along people. Stop all the bickering.

Like this comment
Posted by David Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Sep 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

The trail to be built along Alpine Road at Stanford University's expense starts at the town's border with Ladera and goes west to Arastradero Road, about one mile.

The section of Alpine Road trail in question for this story is all located west of the intersection with Arastradero Road.

As for the possibly resurfacing, it will not be gravel. The term of art, I believe, is decomposed granite. It drains well, is smoother than gravel (if the trails at Town Center are any guide) and has a glue of some kind that holds everything together.

Like this comment
Posted by Trail User, Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Sep 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Most all regular trail users understand we all must share the trail system; we are so lucky to have beautiful trails to get around, exercise and enjoy our lovely town. I think we can also all agree that we need to carry out greater efforts to get more kids biking & walking to schools & after school activities. The question is how far do go in "improving" our trails along the main roads to accommodate rolling backpacks, bicycles and so on? Do we really need to build 4 ft wide paths with hard cement like surfaces? And will the kids use these "improved" trails if we build them? The recently re-surfaced path from Indian Crossing to Saddleback is now covered with some kind of crushed, packed hard surface that looks like concrete - it is pretty ugly compared to the light beige packed pea gravel that was there before. I hope the Town does not extend this type of concrete like surface all the way down to the Alpine Swim Club. I suggest the best solution is to make improvements to the existing crosswalks on Alpine at Portola Rd and at Golden Oak across from the Alpine Club. Better crosswalk markings & signage, pedestrian activated flashing lights such as they have at Georgia Lane, and midway ped islands could be installed. Then school kids on bike or foot could more safely use the all ready paved asphalt pathway that extends on the north side of Alpine Rd from Portola Rd to Golden Oak. Keeping Portola Valley's beautiful rural, natural pathways should be a priority for all who value our Town's traditions and natural setting.

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