Hikers AND bikers should enjoy Pogonip

As We See It:

SC Sentinel:   03/14/2012

We get that hikers in Pogonip don’t want to share trails with mountain bikers.

We also get that bicycle advocates push hard for what they want, often get it because they are good at organizing and applying pressure, but sometimes leave a trail of resentment behind them.

But their plan to pay for and build a 4-foot-wide trail in the city’s Pogonip greenbelt adjacent to UC Santa Cruz and Highway 9 is one that should be accepted, even if some of the touted benefits of the path are a bit overstated.

The 1.5-mile trail has already been approved by the advisory Parks and Recreation Commission, and next will be taken up the Santa Cruz City Council, either in two weeks or at another date, probably in April.

The proposal for the trail is the culmination of a longtime dream by the biking community, who want more trails in city-owned property. A Sentinel poll last week showed overwhelming support for the bike trail. The trail through Arana Gulch, another Santa Cruz greenbelt, was supported by bicyclists, whose efforts paid off when the state Coastal Commission finally approved the path earlier this year.

The Pogonip trail proposal winds its way up a couple of social hills. One is already occupied by a vocal environmental/conservationist community, veterans of the efforts in decades past to establish the greenbelt. This group likes the quiet and relative unobtrusiveness of allowing only pedestrian access.

These folks have legitimate concerns about environmental problems associated with bikes. It’s more than likely that the hikers and horseback riders who prefer Pogonip the way it is now in terms of trail use will not use the new bike trail. That’s OK. They can continue to use existing trails.

The other issue is the prevalence of crime in Pogonip — specifically drug use and drug dealing, especially heroin and methamphetamine.

The situation got so bad that the Sentinel devoted much of a special report two years ago to investigating the so-called “Heroin Hill” that was making Pogonip off limits except to narcotics officers making arrests.

Since then, aided by money from a tax city voters assessed on themselves, police and park rangers have made major inroads in the Pogonip drug trade. While down significantly, however, vestiges remain.

Another issue in Pogonip has been illegal camping, a problem that continues, as transients and people seeking a place to sleep outside of the long arm of the law often pitch tents in the greenbelt. Unfortunately, this prohibited use also is often accompanied by illegal campfires occasionally leading to wildfires, trash left behind and a host of other environmental degradations.

Will a bike path solve these issues? Yes and no. Yes, in that the more public use, the better. That’s why citizen groups trying to drive out illegal activities from public spaces back the biking trail.

No, because mountain bikers speeding by are not really going to deter wily drug dealers, not to mention illegal campers, tucked back in the shadows and trees.

But this is public property, and a bike path absolutely fits in with public use and access. So we support both pedestrian trails AND the biking trail. While the city obviously does not have the money to make the bike trail happen, bike-path advocates say they’ll raise the $25,000 or so needed to complete the trail and provide the volunteers to maintain it. Based on their track record, they’ll do both — and we urge the council to approve their proposal.