Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about a new nonmotorized, multi-use San Diego River Gorge Trail leading to the popular Cedar Creek Falls. Next week’s article will focus on the trek that leads to the falls, referred to as one of San Diego County’s gems.
“So what are all the tents doing over on Thornbush?” has been a question from residents in that part of San Diego Country Estates.
About a dozen tents are pitched at the San Diego River Gorge Trailhead.
According to Debbie Hobbs, recreation and lands officer for the Cleveland National Forest’s Palomar Ranger Station, camping is not permitted anywhere in or around the area in question.
So, Hobbs said, “I am glad you ask. The tents will be a common site over the next year or so. Work crews for the trail down to Cedar Creek Falls will be using the tents as temporary living facilities while a new multi-use trail is being constructed.”
The multi-use trail plan was spearheaded by former wilderness ranger Robert Macon after the Cedar fire in 2003. The massive wildfire wiped out vegetation in the area, and subsequent rains brought an obvious need for trail improvement.
“The need for sustainable trails are imperative in any high traffic area,” said Matt Roberts of the American Conservation Experience (ACE). Roberts, from ACE headquarters in Flagstaff, Ariz., met with personnel from all over the nation during last week’s training exercise at the trailhead. Staff came from as far east as New Hampshire and as far south as Texas, observing first-hand a local example of a trail in trouble.
“We are covering the layout and design procedures for sustainable trails,” said Roberts.
The key, according to Roberts, is the sustainability. “Parts of this trail are pretty steep and dangerous. There is a very severe erosion problem because the original trail is unsustainable.”
Over the next year the Cleveland National Forest has partnered with the ACE and AmeriCorps to reconstruct the San Diego River Gorge Trail. Construction of the new trail was scheduled to begin Jan. 13.
“There will be a group of 12 people, including crew leaders and corps members,” explained Roberts. “The crew will be working eight days on, six days off, until it gets too hot to work. We will continue the project with new crews for as long as it takes to get it all done.”
“AmeriCorps is similar to the Peace Corps, but projects are based solely in the United States,” explained West Texas crew member Ian Kirby.
“We can’t even be sure how the current trail was made,” said Hobbs. “It could have been a trail made on purpose, but it appears as if people just knew where the river bottom and waterfall was located and simply walked in that direction.”
The project has required permission, collaboration and input from multiple entities. The planning process has included the San Diego River Conservancy, the Helix Irrigation District, Ramona Municipal Water District, Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger Station, American Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps and the rangers.
“The bottom part (where the river is) is the Helix Irrigation District, but we have an easement to go through the trails to get to the falls on the other side,” said Hobbs. “Getting all the different entities to come to an understanding has been a considerable undertaking.”
The plans go beyond the trail itself. According to Hobbs, the multi-use nonmotorized trail for equestrian, hiking and cycling use will include a trailhead that will need to be equipped with a potable water source as well as a vault toilet and larger parking area. “It will take a little over a year to finish, but we hope to cut the tape in late Spring 2011 and say hallelujah!”
The contract is still being planned for trailhead.
Roberts explained how rocks, roots and other material naturally diverts rainwater down the side of a mountain. Valuable experience was gained on how to save and preserve this natural resource that is part of the American trail systems, he said.
“In a properly developed trail, the water is naturally dispersed because of the material already on the mountain,” he said. “As people make a path (trail) there aren’t any materials to divert the flow of water naturally. The water will run down the path of least resistance (down the dirt path), which will in turn cause erosion problems and trail collapses.”
In a sustainable trail, the grade is cut to a percentage of no more than half the degree of the slope. With this type of trail, Roberts said, the water will continue to flow across the trail and in a natural pattern on down the mountain. “With ridge line trails, even a 1 percent grade is a poor design.”
Though numerous restoration projects are offered in many of the most beautiful national parks and wilderness areas in the West, the ACE experience is not for the typical eco-tourist.
“Crews dedicate 40 hours of very hard work each week in exchange for housing and food on projects,” said Roberts.
Projects last 12 weeks or longer with the reward being the opportunity to help restore some of America’s natural treasures.
Over the next year, construction crews will be seen in and around the trail areas. Heavy equipment and machinery will be used on the multi-faceted project. Though the trail will remain open, park rangers stress the importance of remaining away from the crews and equipment.
The crew on this project will be staying onsite, said Roberts. The tents around the project are the crew’s “home away from home.” Roberts requests all respect and privacy be awarded to the crew’s camping area.
For more information on the project or the San Diego River Gorge Trail, contact rangers at the Palomar Ranger Station at 1634 Black Canyon Road in Ramona at 760-788-0250, extension 3327.