Things I Learned From Equestrians

Things I Learned From Equestrians

I mentioned when I introduced Trail Topics that I’d share some learning from equestrians.  When I began thinking about multi-user advocacy, I was puzzled at how we hear a lot about equestrian/cyclist issues, yet some places like Fremont Older and Wilder Ranch seem to work well even though most trails are open to all users.  I have two friends who board horses at Garrod Farms and ride frequently at Fremont Older, and they say that in recent years they’ve found the mountain bikers there to be pretty well behaved.  One of them says “it’s because we taught them!” 

When we spoke in more detail, I realized that there are still issues in the trail system that degrade their experience.  One of my friends said she’s reluctant to ride the Toyon Trail, which is a narrow, winding trail that has some blind turns leading to steep descents.  My friend is concerned that a cyclist cresting one of these hills may need to make a quick stop and her horse might react and possibly throw her.  I’ve had a similar experience there myself, where a cyclist came around the corner as I was climbing the hill.  He grabbed a little too much brake and skidded momentarily.  Nobody was ever in danger, but a similar encounter with a horse could be dangerous.  It’s unfortunate that my equestrian friend is opting out of this trail, because otherwise it’s one of the most interesting in the preserve.

This led me to think about another trail, Bills’ Trail in Marin County’s Taylor State Park.  State Parks supported a change in use for bike access, but users of the trail were concerned about safety and impact on their experience.  After a long planning process, the trail was retrofitted with features like pinch points and rock armored turns to control bike speed and avoid the types of issues my friend described.  In the diagram you can see how a pinch point can be created with logs or rocks.  The planning map shows roughly a hundred such features on Bills’ Trail, but it might be possible to use just a few on Toyon to improve experiences for many users. 

A pinch point can help in several ways.  It’ll minimize surprise encounters as well as reducing the speed of crossing.  For a cyclist it can make the trail feel narrower and more curvy, which increases interest and challenge even though speeds are lower.  Crossings are made easier, as a user can station themselves in a protected area while another passes by, or while they look ahead to see if anyone’s approaching.  Finally, if the features are well designed, they can make the trail more visually appealing.

I’ve provided this suggestion as well as some additional detail to staff for their consideration.  I also discussed these ideas with Ranger Jeff at Fremont Older to get his opinions, and I’ve invited him to send those to staff too.

Thanks very much for the opportunity to provide input.  I’ll return with another Trail Topic soon.

These comments were provided to the Midpen Board of Directors during the public comment portion of their November 10, 2021 meeting.