By Karen Carlson
As federal and state budgets shrink, trails move farther down the list of importance to those decision makers in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. Earlier this year a great loss to the trail community occurred. The California Recreational Trails Committee (CRTC), comprised of trails supporters, professionals, group leaders, and agency representatives to work with the state and many agencies and organizations regarding trail issues, was sunset in January 2013. The committee had been charged with hearing the concerns and issues of California’s non-motorized trail users and managers and advising the director of California State Parks and the governor’s office on trail issues.
Preparation of a recreational trails plan was authorized by the State Legislature in 1978 as an element of the California Recreational Trails Act. It mandated trails programs and passed the mandates to counties and cities as well, but has now removed a most important avenue of communication. The following email was received in my inbox (shortened version):
Dear Trails Supporter:
As of yesterday, the California Recreational Trails Committee (CRTC) lost its legal status and “sunsetted.”
As chair, I organized an effort in 2012 to allow the CRTC to continue, but the bill that would have allowed that was vetoed by the governor in late September. Until the last minute, we thought that the bill would be signed by the governor and allow the CRTC to continue for another 15 years. But the effort got caught up (I believe) in the budget scandal that hit the California Dept. of Parks and Recreation in August. The CRTC held its last meeting in Sacramento on December 3, 2012.
Let’s hope that this year shows us a way forward in preserving the voice of the California trail community. I am looking for your help in the effort. And please forward this message to your trail supporter network.”
Late in 2012 word came that there was some hesitation in Sacramento regarding the maintenance of the CRTC, and trail supporters across the state spoke out against suspending this committee. This allowed the committee to continue at that time. It makes sense to those of us who understand the importance of trails in our communities and support the state trails plan to have the open communication, guidance, and representation by the group of trails advocates.
Stated on the California Parks website www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=23443: “Strong relationships between trail experts statewide continue to improve our trail networks by aligning trails and programs for maximum continuity,” yet the one committee that was able to do this statewide has been dissolved.
The State of California says it supports trails but is that really the truth? As a trail supporter, the more the state removes its support of our trails programs and trails systems the more I have to doubt it believes in what’s written. The state website says, “Why is the Trail Plan important?
“The ability to exercise and enjoy nature is critical to the physical and mental health of Californians. California State Parks surveys show that the state’s trails provide experiences that attract more users than any other type of recreational facility. Whether hiking on a narrow back-country trail or bicycling on a paved multi-use trail, California residents and visitors clearly enjoy trails. Thus helping local agencies develop, manage and maintain trails is an important part of providing Californians the opportunity for healthy outdoor exercise.
“The state’s increasing population translates to an increasing demand for trails, which puts additional pressure on local recreation providers who plan, maintain and manage trails. While many providers recognize the importance of trails, they may be unfamiliar with developing an integrated trail management system.
The Plan’s Goals and Action Guidelines offer help. For example, to help obtain funding for trail projects, agencies can align their trail system with the plan; thus offering continuity to the user and extending the statewide trail network.”
Yet trail funding is reduced, support is reduced, and grant availability is reduced. The more cuts and damage done to the State Parks Department and to the State Recreational Trails Program (RTP) by the government, the more burden will lie with local agencies, communities, trail groups and supporters to build and maintain trails.
After the state made announcements to abandon some trails, such as the California Riding and Hiking Trail in our area and close parks statewide, and now the “sunsetting” of the CRTC, it is ever more important that trail supporters work hard and remain diligent and united for our trails system to persist to be viable, continuous and comprehensive, now and into the uncertain future. You may contact the California State Offices at:
California State Parks
Statewide Trails Section
PO Box 942896
Karen Carlson is a Ramona resident, past president of Ramona Trails Association, and an avid trails advocate active with many agencies, organizations, and committees. With questions or comments, contact Karen and Cricket via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.