Close to 400 passionate partisans jammed the auditorium of McKinley School in Redwood City March 22 for a hearing by the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Commission on a proposed master plan for Huddart and Wunderlich parks.
By the time it ended at 9:30 p.m., 34 people had weighed in, mostly against the proposed bike trail; 31 more had submitted speaker slips. They will get their chance when the hearing continues at the next regular commission meeting on Thursday, April 6, at 2:30 p.m., in Redwood City.
The proposed route for mountain bikes is the one controversial element in the otherwise straightforward master plan for the county's two semi-wilderness parks on the Bay side of the hills. Bicyclists are not allowed to ride on park trails; they can, however, ride on park roads.
Under development for the last three years, the proposed master plan suggests a vision for the parks over the next 20 years. That vision calls for mostly simple improvements to roads, trails and picnic areas; vegetation management; a new interpretive center at Huddart Park; and restoration of the historic Folger Stable at Wunderlich.
County Parks and Recreation Director Dave Holland proposed a way through the emotional disputes between opposing groups of trail users. He recommended that the commission:
• Approve the draft master plan for Huddart and Wunderlich parks without the mountain bike trail (and recommend it to the Board of Supervisors for adoption).
• Create a blue ribbon committee to develop a new trails master plan for the county that will include all users, such as road and mountain bikers, within the next 18 months.
"This effort has been divisive; it has polarized folks," Mr. Holland acknowledged. He argued that the county trails plan needs to be revised so that it provides specific guidance to accommodate all user groups, new uses, and changing needs.
"This needs to be done now, rather than later," Mr. Holland said. "Trails are the single most unique attribute of the county parks."
The proposed Valley-to-Skyline Trail would provide a route up the hill for mountain bikers separate from the park trail system, which is off limits.
Bikers could enter Huddart Park from Greer Road in Woodside, and use paved park roads as far as the park's entrance on Kings Mountain Road.
Above the park entrance, a new 12-foot-wide trail would be built south of Kings Mountain Road up Squealer Gulch. It would cross Kings Mountain Road again near the road to the archery range, and continue to Skyline. Plans call for a new parking lot near the upper crossing.
The plan also suggests turning the part of Huddart Park south of Kings Mountain Road over to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District for inclusion in its adjacent Teague Hill Open Space Preserve. The district allows mountain bike use on certain trails in its preserves.
The arguments presented to the commission have ripened over years of feuding.
Safety was the primary worry of the 23 speakers — mostly horse riders — who opposed the trail. They cited accidents and near-accidents caused by bicycle packs and renegade bicyclists illegally speeding down park trails and terrorizing horses, riders and hikers.
"Mixing uses on the same trail is a recipe for disaster," said Kermit Clayton.
Other concerns were increased traffic and parking on narrow Woodside roads, sanitation, the burden of responding to accidents, and erosion and sedimentation of creeks caused by skidding bikes.
Woodside Town Manager Susan George presented the town's "adamant opposition" to any bike trail that will encroach on parks and detract from their enjoyment. She cited problems with traffic and parking. "The Town Council supports a regional collaborative effort to solve the problem," she said.
Seven mountain bikers asked for respect and a safe way to get from the valley to Skyline. "Give us an opportunity to show what we can do," said Shane Overton. "We police ourselves. We believe the issues can be addressed."
Susan Doherty complained about the incendiary language of bicycle opponents. "Please don't demonize cyclists," she said.
Patty Ciesla, executive director of the Northern California Mountain Bicycling Association, offered to build a separate trail for mountain bikes with no negative environmental impacts. "I can raise the funds and build the trail at no cost to the county. I promise," she said.
The San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Commission will continue its hearing on the draft master plan for Huddart and Wunderlich parks at its regular meeting Thursday, April 6, at 2:30 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, 400 County Center (corner of Hamilton Avenue and Bradford Street) in Redwood City. For information on the proposed bike route, go to eParks.net, and click on Huddart Wunderlich Draft Master Plan; or call county planner Sam Herzberg at 363-1823.