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Our first concern is SAFETY on our trails. Injury collisions and conflict with mountain bikers and other trail users have caused our concern.

Below are excerpts of reasons and thoughts why Safe Trails has been created here in Santa Barbara, California, USA. Please join us.

Who we are:

SafeTrails is a group of concerned trail advocates in the Santa Barbara California area who share a common goal of keeping our front country footpaths safe for all users.

Where we are:

Santa Barbara is in a truly unique location in California. It is the only place on the west coast where the mountains run east to west rather than north to south. Our mountains rise to up to 4000 feet from sea level in just four miles. The Santa Barbara area has been inhabited since before the Spanish arrived in the 1500's. There were large populations of Chumash natives who lived a full and productive life in this area. The monks were surprised at the industry and health of the natives which resulted from their varied diet of seafood and native plants. The natives moved between the sea shore, the mountains and beyond in yearly cycles. They left behind a beautiful heritage and many historic footpaths that traced their annual journeys. We have an obligation to be the stewards of these history trails and to protect them for future generations.

What brought us together:

The Santa Barbara area is also unique in having our footpaths begin on a road and end on a road. Camino Cielo, the "Sky Road" runs across the top of our front country range and is the terminus for most of our front country footpaths. People and horses have been using these footpaths for centuries to go up and over to the interior of Santa Barbara County. With the construction of Camino Cielo in 1934, the footpaths were bisected and opened up to those who wanted to hike down from the top either to the front or to the backcountry. In the 1970's people started experimenting with riding bikes up and down the trails. Since our trails are very steep only a few hardy souls would attempt the ride at a very slow speed, stopping to carry their bikes at many places.

Over the years bike technology changed and the first mountain bikes were introduced in the 1980's. Some riders started riding up and down the mountain footpaths. By the mid-1980's the number of mountain bikes and the concerns for safety were first raised. The Forest Service conducted public meetings about the use of mountain bikes on the trails and did surveys of trail use. The public meetings degenerated into shouting matches with each side trying to out shout the other. The Forest Service was seeking consensus on what they should do but consensus was not possible with such high emotions. The Forest Service decided to stay with the status quo. The trails were left open to all users with the intent of revisiting the issue in the future. A follow up survey was done in 1990 which showed that many more hikers had had exposure to mountain bikes on the trail and the negative feelings towards them had risen. In about 1991, a young mountain biker was found dead after he fell off one of Santa Barbara' s trails.

Again the bike technology advanced in the 1990's. Many ski resorts started to rent bikes specifically designed to go down steep ski runs so that they could generate more income from idle facilities in the summer. Owners of these bikes found that they could be used in other areas, specifically, areas where there was a road at the top of a mountain range and another road at the bottom. Santa Barbara fit this requirement to a tee. Down hill mountain bikes started to be used on the Santa Barbara footpaths. At first, it was an achievement to just complete the run down one of our extreme steep trails. Some time after, riders started to keep track of their times coming down. In order to improve their times, riders started to alter the trails by removing rocks and cutting diversions around difficult rock drops. What was once the venue of expert down hill racers quickly became the pastime of young teenagers. What once took a hour, now could be done in ten or eleven minutes. The footpath became more and more like a race course complete with smooth dirt surfaces and banked turns. What once had a top speed of five miles an hour could now be done at 30 miles per hour.

At the same time, hikers, equestrians, trail runners and after-dinner walkers were still trying to use the footpaths. The equestrians were the first to start abandoning the trails and moved most of their riding either to the back country or to private trails open only to equestrians. On the existing footpaths there is no escape zone for equestrians when a fast moving mountain bike comes down. Most of the footpaths have a steep drop off on at least one side and a hill on the other. Additionally, most are too narrow, at some points only 18 inches wide, to allow a mountain bike to pass an equestrian safely. A young man was thrown from his horse and kicked in the face when a mountain bike hit the horse. More recently, there were several incidents where hikers were hit by fast moving mountain bikes.

The same technology that allows individuals to ride rougher terrain at higher speeds increases the risk to other trail users. Many hikers and walkers began to be displaced from the footpaths. Eventually a group of trail users got together and decided that trail safety for all should have a higher priority than the sport of a few. SafeTrails was born.

What our goals are:

1. We want to convince land managers in the Santa Barbara area that trail usage should be based upon safety and well defined standards rather than laissez-faire simplicity.

2. Safe Trails does not encourage, support, or condone violence between trail user groups. Planting traps, trip wires and other devices to injure mountain bikers or equestrians is immoral and illegal and does not further anyone's cause. Bikers riding as close as they can to other trail users to 'dust' them is also unacceptable.

3. We want to hear from all sectors of the community on how they think local trails should be used.

4. We want to collect information about trail conditions and incidents so that decisions can be based upon facts rether than emotions.

5. We want to educate trail users about the effects of mountain bikes on our steep narrow front country trails.

6. We want to put a stop to the displacement of legitimate trail users by special use groups. The loss of peaceful and quiet right to the hiking experience for the old, the very young and the disabled should not be ignored.

7. Multi-use trails in Santa Barbara's front country should meet standards set by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) in their book 'Building Better Trails' of no more than an overall grade of 10% with maximum tread grade of 15% with grade reversals and trail widths adequate to give equestrians 'escape routes'.

8. Where existing trails do not meet those minimum standards listed above, we support closing those trails to mountain bikes, changing the designation from multi-use to footpath use unless and until they meet those standards. Trails should be closed unless posted as open.

9. We support locating and opening mountain bike only areas so that mountain bikers can enjoy their sport.

10. We support healing the wounds of the trail community once each group feels that they are understood, that their needs are being met and that they are able to enjoy our trails in a way that is acceptable to them.


Please join us in our quest to convince the local land managers that safety should be our first concern.

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