Conservation Analyst’s Report, November July-August 2017

CNPS advocates for protection of botanically important trails in EBMUD Watershed Plan
For decades the East Bay Municipal Utility District has allowed hiking and equestrian use on only some watershed trails out of concern for protection of the water supply and watershed biodiversity. However, release of a Watershed Master Plan update in June 2016 included draft language to open four trails in the EBMUD watershed to mountain biking: Pinole Valley, the “Eagle’s Nest” trail above the San Pablo Reservoir, the Skyline Trail in the Oakland Hills, and a narrow trail link between Redwood Regional Park and the Huckleberry Preserve.

Concerned with impacts to flora and trail use, the East Bay CNPS conservation committee became an active participant in the Safe Trails, Environmental Protection alliance (STEP). In addition to CNPS, the STEP alliance includes the Sierra Club, Audubon, Regional Parks Association, Metropolitan Horseman’s Association, and Claremont Canyon Conservancy and is coordinated by former EBMUD Board Member Helen Burke. One of the guiding principles of the alliance is to keep narrow hiking trails in the EBMUD watershed safe and enjoyable for hiking and equestrians. 
EBCNPS was concerned with the proposed opening to mountain biking of the narrow, and occasionally steep, serpentine path through the botanically rich Skyline Trail on EBMUD land. It lies between Tilden’s Steam Trains and the Caldecott Tunnel (Hwy 24) and is also the location of the Skyline Garden’s Project. Glen Schneider of EBCNPS leads restoration weeding workdays in this botanically diverse trail area. They have documented a remarkable 237 native species in the area. Even limited mountain biking from occasional illegal biking was leading to damage to trail edge plants and gullying.

Other EBMUD proposed trail openings of concern included opening a narrow Redwood Park trail link that would take mountain bikes to the entrance to Huckleberry Preserve, as well as a Pinole Valley Trail that would take bikes to the entrance of Sobrante Ridge Preserve. Both preserves have the rare pallid manzanita and narrow walking trails where biking is prohibited. With support from the Bay Ridge Trail Project, the Bicycle Trails Council, and an EBMUD Board member advocate, all four trails would be opened to mountain biking as a “pilot project” over two years upon adoption of the Master Plan. 

CNPS members, other STEP organization members, and members of the biking community filled the downtown Oakland EBMUD hearing room in August 2016 to comment on the proposed Master Plan trail changes. Articles appeared in local papers. CNPS and other STEP members spoke at an EBMUD Board Meeting on needed changes to the plan. This summer we joined mountain biking representatives in a EBMUD-sponsored tour to evaluate possible low-impact fire road trail configurations on EBMUD land in the Pinole Valley. Finally, in early October, EBMUD staff returned with a set of trail use recommendations that they will be bringing to the Board. The recommendations are different from the trail openings first proposed in the draft Watershed Plan over a year ago.

First, EBMUD staff will be recommending long term protection of watershed trails of CNPS and STEP alliance concern. The narrow Skyline Trail where the Skyline Gardens Project is located, a Pinole Valley “apdage” trail going directly to Sobrante Ridge Reserve, and a narrow trail linking Redwood Park to the entrance of the Huckleberry Preserve will remain dedicated to hiking and equestrian use only.

Second, the wording on trail uses in the draft Master Plan has been revised to state that only two watershed trails, Eagles Nest and Pinole Valley, can be opened for biking. Both are wide fire and service roads.

The Eagle’s nest trail is a short fire road that connects San Pablo Dam Road (across from the reservoir) with the Nimitz Trail in Tilden Park, a wide and paved trail that is open to both hikers and bikes. The Pinole Valley trail is also a fire road that connects the Crockett Hills Regional Park and Fernandez Ranch to the Castro Ranch Road in Pinole and to San Pablo Dam Road.

Third, EBMUD will be looking into enforcement measures such as: rules of the road posted at the Eagle’s Nest and Pinole Valley trailheads, bikes will need to have trail permits just like hikers and equestrians (however the District agreed to look into a more convenient way to sign up for trail access in the watershed), signs should educate users about threatened or endangered species so users can avoid injuring them, and EBMUD will provide a simple online way to file a complaint over inappropriate trail use. The EBMUD Board of Directors can also revoke bicycle access on these trails at any time and for any reason.

One of the positive outcomes from our meetings with District watershed staff has been their growing appreciation of the unique biodiversity of the Skyline Trail. Glen was invited to give native plant talks at the District offices. Also, an amazing and skilled volunteer group called the “Trail Dogs” donated several days this year to repairing sections of the Skyline Trail. Log “water bars” and gravel switchbacks were built for the steep and eroding portions of the trail near the Steam Train entrance.

The revised EBMUD staff recommendations on trail use for the long-range Watershed Plan will go to the Board for approval, likely in the beginning of the new year. Stay tuned.

Jim Hansen
East Bay Chapter Conservation Chair