Citations … Are You in Danger of Paying?
Citations in Mission Trails North? I had heard several stories of people getting citations just north of Mission Trails Park (San Diego, CA). I had been informed mountain bikers were no longer allowed to enter the portion of Spring Canyon north of the Highway 52 freeway.
I heard about a protest ride. Some stories told of $1,500 citations while others mentioned bikes being confiscated by the Marines in addition to the citation. Since I had sufficiently recovered from my whiplash injury (suffered with the Bike Sprite in Mendocino) I decided to go do my own reconnaissance mission. Check out the locations where I found the
Having ridden but once in the previous 18 weeks … I was eager to hit the trail. When I got to the ramp turning off the blacktop I couldn’t miss a new sign placed right in front of the gate. The sign said there were going to be some more signs marking damaged habitats up Spring Canyon … and asked people to abide by those signs (I promised myself I would certainly do that). I raced down into the river bed and on toward the bridge, where I expected to end my ride based on the reports I’d heard.
As I approached the bridge my eyes scanned the trail and adjacent areas … anticipating bad news. But I was pleasantly surprised to see … the only new sign was one just like at the front gate (the one warning of other signs to come). So I rode on.
Just north of the westbound bridge on Highway 52 I spotted my first Area Closed sign … and soon spotted another just after making my usual left turn (to gain access to my favorite trail half way up the west side of the canyon). Both of these signs were habitat restoration warning signs, with “City of San Diego” marked on them. They were closing off an area where I thought no one would ever think of riding a bike … until I checked further. I noticed someone had indeed made a trail through the thick brush which appeared to be coming down from a newer trail called Deer Dancer. (Two days later I did ride up to find Deer Dancer was also closed.)
My favorite trail runs along the west shoulder of Spring Canyon, dropping into and out-of several side canyons as it heads north. I made a left on the first side wash (Called “Switchbacks” by many) not yet seeing any warnings … until about 50 yards farther west … where I saw another habitat restoration sign and a large pile of brush on the left. The blockage was not on Switchbacks … but on a relatively new and small trail leading off to the south. (When I returned two days later I did find an Area Closed sign about a mile up Switchbacks.)
I turned around and continued to follow my trail farther up the west flank of Spring Canyon. The next canyon I dropped into was the one commonly called “Three Barrels” … due to the stacked 55 gallon drums marking the entry. I looked west, up this, the largest side canyon going west, and saw no new signs.
Finally I decided to return to the bottom of Spring Canyon and ride up to where I knew there would be warning signs set up by the Marines. Just before I got to the signs I came across a fellow who was wearing a floppy hat and looking through some binoculars at something. I stopped and asked him if he had seen any new signs in the area. He said he had seen a few. I asked him if he knew about recent reports of people getting citations. He said he knew of a couple for sure, one being very personal. Sensing that I didn’t quite get what he was saying, he clarified, “Me … I got one.” I asked him (I later learned his name was Bruce) how that happened. Bruce told me something like this …
“When I got to the sign up there,” pointing to the sign I had been approaching, “I saw the Marines had stopped two bikers and looked to be giving them a citation. I stopped at the sign but decided I wanted to ask these guys if they could clarify where exactly the boundaries were. But when I got up to them they gave me a citation too!” He said the man and woman who had been cited said the Marines were hiding in the brush until they rode bye. At that point the Marines jumped out to block their way and began to write their citations.
I later asked Bruce about the citation. “Was it really for $1,500?” He said $1,500 was the amount printed on the citation if he just wanted to send it in and not go to court … but he went to court to plead “Not Guilty.” He said he was a little shocked to see the same man and woman “citation winners” in the court at the same time as he. Bruce described how the judge called all three of them up at the same time and questioned them as to their citations, Bruce said he had brought a photo of the warning sign to show the judge what poor condition it was and to explain how he just wanted to ask the Marines a question. He said the other couple had also brought a photo of the same marked-up sign and stated the same thing as he.
Bruce shared the judge’s comments, “Every couple months or so we seem to get a flock of these Marine citations. We think it must have something to do with getting a new base commander or something. I am going to let you off on this citation but will uphold it if you get another one within the next 6 months.” Bruce and the couple thanked the judge and left, more than a little relieved.
Bruce rode off while I went back to the signs to take a few more photos. I decided to ride up a wash to the east in search of some new signs. I later found somebody on Strava called the trail “Wrong Way.” Just 100 meters up Wrong Way and I came across Bruce, once again off his bike and looking through his binoculars. I said, “What are you looking at this time?” He mentioned he had seen a hawk. I asked, “Was it a Red Tail Hawk,” (the most common type found in our area) to which he retorted, “No, it was smaller and had a white abdomen.” I suggested it was a Harris Hawk, since we used to have those in one of our trees at home … not more than 5 miles from where we were standing. He stated he was not sure.
Then Bruce changed back to the citation topic, saying he heard that the U.S Fish and Game Department was getting involved in the area, and that was why all the Habitat Restoration signs were appearing. I finally said goodbye to Bruce and kept going up the Wrong Way trail.
I made it all the way to the ridge without seeing any sign, and decided to ride to the northwest to catch the main Spring Canyon trail back down. I knew I would be passing the “Keep Out” sign from the backside and thought about the situation … how ridiculous I found it. There was one sign in the middle of Spring Canyon near the top … but not one on any other trail leaving the canyon in any other direction. How could a rider be blamed for entering the Marine’s area if he had not been warned in any way. If I rode up the Wrong Way trail (or any of the other side trails) and didn’t pass by that one sign in the middle of Spring Canyon, how would I know not to keep on riding? It would be like placing a “Keep Out” sign on one freeway entering Los Angeles … and then ticketing everyone, even the drivers that had not passed that one, single sign.
While zooming down the main trail in Spring Canyon I came across a couple of riders heading up. I said hello to the first one I passed but the second one yelled, “Hold on, hold on!” I immediately stopped and he said, “Have you seen any Marines up here?” I said, “Nope, and I came all the way from the top. I think you are going to be okay.” He countered, “Did you notice any quad tracks on the trail?” I replied, “No, but I have been booking it down here pretty fast. Why are you looking?” He then informed me, “That is what the Marines come down here in.” I said to myself, “Of course, I should have thought of that.” He said, we saw tracks down below here, fresh tracks, with no bike marks over the top. We think they were here today. By the way … my name is Bob and I am glad to meet you.” We shook hands and then headed in opposite directions.
I continued down Spring Canyon and decided to head up the 3-Barrels trail. I saw no new signs up that trail or the extra part to the top, but did see the Marine Keep Out Sign when I arrived at the top. This sign sits in the middle of the ridge road, warning riders not to ride east on the ridge road.
I rode down the road to the head of the Grassy Knoll trail and found a burned-up sign balanced inside a burned 55 gallon drum. The sign was illegible, so I figured there must be another farther down the trail, which there was. The new sign was a Habitat Restoration sign right at the point where riders make a sharp turn from doubletrack onto singletrack.
I rode back up to the beginning of the Iron Tread trail and wound down to the bottom of Oak Canyon, no new signs. I rode a few hundred yards up Grassy Knoll from the west and saw no new signs. As a matter of fact, in my ride back to the truck the only new sign I came across was at the bottom of Deer Dancer. I saw no new signs where the trail passes under the Oak Canyon bridge, or anywhere back to the truck.
In conclusion, I saw no new Military signs. I saw several new signs posted by the City of San Diego to protect habitats. The habitat signs seemed to be posted on small trails created within the past 2-3 years. With the appearance of the new San Diego City Habitat Restoration signs, the issuance of citations by the Military, and new involvement by the Fish and Game, Mission Trails North continues to be an area in turmoil.
Have you done any rides in this area? Did you see any signs? The Marines? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
Citations? By placing signs on specific trails and not on others I believe the only way we can earn a citation is to ride directly past a Keep Out sign. I can’t see how they can issue a citation if you have never been warned. I am going to keep riding all the trails in the Mission Hills North area except the ones posted with a “Keep Out” sign.
Less than an hour after posting this page I was contacted by my buddy (Mike Daigle from the ECC Cycling Club) with these photos to share regarding the military boundaries. He said fellow ECC member (Chuck Edgin)supplied him with the photos. I have to agree with Chuck’s clarification as to where that sign is placed near the tops of Iron Tread and Three Barrels.