Dual Use Trails

Dual Use Trails

I’d like to present another Trail Topic in the interest of improving the trail system for all users.  The board has provided a forum to discuss these items with staff. 

My comments tonight will expand on those from Teri Baron in the last board meeting.  Teri mentioned that as mountain bike use increased, some trails became very difficult for equestrians to use.  One such trail is Saratoga Gap.  This is a narrow contour trail on a steep side slope, so while hiker/cyclist crossings are manageable, cyclist/equestrian crossings are quite difficult.  Even with good behavior on everyone’s part, a lot of bikes on this trail would make it very difficult for equestrians to use.  Over time this multi-use trail became a sort of de-facto hiking/cycling trail.

Around 2004 Midpen opened the Achistaca Trail which is roughly parallel to Saratoga Gap but on the other side of Skyline.  these two now form a very interesting pair.  Both are popular with hikers and runners, who can loop the two trails.  Equestrians can take Achistaca to connect further into Long Ridge, including looping options there.  Saratoga Gap Trail continues to be popular with cyclists, who can connect to the Long Ridge and Peters Creek singletracks and beyond.

Through a combination of unintended consequences and intentional re-design, this part of the trail system now provides a great user experience for just about everyone.  But an interesting question is if Midpen would design such a system today.  Saratoga Gap Trail is narrow and rugged.  It’s not clear that it fits any of the trail types allowed by Midpen’s policies.  In addition, the policies don’t provide for a dual-use hiking/cycling trail. 

Last time I mentioned the update to State Parks’ Trails Handbook and how it provides for hiking/cycling trails as well as other types allowed by Midpen.  In the Trails Handbook it makes clear how these trails can provide a better experience for cyclists and hikers than full multi-use trails, which are designed to be wider and smoother. 

There are other benefits of these dual use trails.  They remove the most difficult and potentially dangerous interaction in the system, which is the bike/horse crossing.  They can also be used to shift bike traffic, for example a good hiking/biking trail could channel downhill bike traffic away from other trails such as fire roads.  This would not only eliminate a lot of high speed crossings on roads; a good design would also control speed on the narrow trail.

For many reasons it makes sense for Midpen to update trail policies.  A great addition would be the dual-use hiking/cycling trail.  This can be a powerful tool to improve all users’ open space experience as Midpen expands the trail system under Measure AA.

Thanks very much.  I’ll be back with another Trail Topic soon.

These comments were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors during the public comment portion of their October 13, 2021 meeting.