Local News

City to Remove Unauthorized Mountain Bike Trails Cut Through Sensitive Habitat

Staff from several Fullerton departments are working together to address the issue of unauthorized trail cuts in environmentally sensitive areas near City trails or on land the City manages that have recently been made by a small group of mountain bikers. Numerous images and videos posted under the handle “fullylooptrailbuilders” on Instagram show not only the clearing of native vegetation for new mountain bike trails, but also the construction of jumps and curved banks on land near the Brea Dam. The land, officially designated as “sensitive habitat,” is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, but contractually managed by the city of Fullerton.

Unauthorized trails and jump near the Brea Dam along the Fullerton loop trails. Photo by Matthew Leslie

Land around the Brea Dam is directly managed by Parks and Recreation but maintained by the Public Works Department. The unofficial 11.5 mile Fullerton Loop, a popular mountain bike route that includes City trails, abandoned railway routes, and short segments of public streets, passes through the Brea Dam area, but most cyclists who ride it do not seem to use the recent trail cuts.

According to Interim Deputy City Manager Christa Johnson, who also oversees the City’s Parks & Recreation Department, the City only became aware of the trail additions earlier this year, although videos showing bicycle jumps constructed in the Brea Dam area date back as far as November, 2020. It is not clear why the City was unaware of the trail cuts, but Johnson did acknowledge the City resources are “stretched thin.”

Newly-created unauthorized trails in the Brea Dam area. Photo by Matthew Leslie.

“We will need residents to help us by reporting any trail issues on the My Fullerton App and signing up to volunteer for the Adopt-A-Park and Trail program that just launched in April,” Johnson wrote, in response to questions from The Observer.

Damage caused by the cyclists was brought to the City’s attention by Jensen Hallstrom, a Fullerton resident who has often spoken before the City Council about his concerns for City trees. Hallstrom drew the attention of 1st District Council member Fred Jung, who visited several of the sites with Hallstrom on May 1. Hallstrom led Jung, this reporter, and others to a wooded area next to the Brea Dam, revealing an extensive network of unauthorized trails covering the hillside above the adjacent park on Harbor Blvd.

Numerous branches covered in dry leaves from nearby native trees cut to clear pathways through the sensitive area lay strewn alongside the new trails and jumps, creating easy fuel for fires. Piles of partially exposed sandbags and anchored wooden pallets tilted sharply upwards to form perilous jumps. Excavated earth had been carefully piled into high banks along elaborately sculpted dirt slaloms snaking down the hill. Recreational cyclists passed nearby, following the long established routes of the Fullerton Loop, avoiding the dangerous curves and jumps recently cut into the steep hill.

A new trail had also been recently cut through a semi-wooded area of Trail Rest Park near Brea Blvd. northeast of the dam. This trail was appeared to be unfinished and led to a dead-end down the steep slope. The renegade trail cutters had even left their shovels, rakes, and other tools nearby, barely camouflaged beneath cut foliage and surrounded by empty alcoholic beverage cans. A chainsaw seen in one of the group’s social media posts, evidently used to remove tree limbs, was not left on site, however.

Trail-cutting tools left out in wooded area of Trail Rest Park. Photo by Matthew Leslie

Instagram messages to the fullylooptrailbuilders and another associated account inquiring about the trail cuts went unanswered, although the pictures and videos of the activities still appear on the social media platform, including invitations to purchase branded merchandise featuring the group’s name and logo.

Fullerton Police, who have posted their own videos of their bicycle-mounted officers, declined to comment on whether or not officers were aware of the new trail and jumps, or if they had cited anyone for it. The FPD’s Cpl. Billy Phu responded to The Observer only that “FPD still does deploy our Bike Team as well as an off-road vehicle to patrol parts of the City not accessible by our patrol units including our miles of trails, the Brea Dam, as well as the Coyote Hills Trails. These patrols are conducted as an ancillary duty by those Officers throughout our organization who have been trained to do so in addition to their assigned duties.”

Tree branches thrown aside to make room for banked trail cut.

Acting Parks & Recreation Deputy Director Alice Loya said that City staffers were working with the bicycling community to stop trail-building and damage to the vegetation. Christa Johnson said that, “Parks and Recreation has not had any direct contact with anyone who participated in the trail modifications,” and that, “The owner of Fullerton Bicycle has reached out to the participants and asked them to stop.”  The owner of Fullerton Bicycles subsequently told The Observer that he was aware of the individual as a customer of his shop and was concerned about the liability the young man might bring upon himself for installing jumps on the Army Corp land.

Trees show evidence of branches cut for trail with jump near Brea Dam.

According to Johnson, representatives from Parks & Rec, traffic engineering, and landscape maintenance are meeting to address the problem. Johnson said that the City is planning to take down the jumps in a way that will not further damage the sensitive habitat. Alice Loya said that the vegetation would be allowed to grow back naturally.

The City is set to debut a new trail safety campaign to promote proper trail protocols governing the behavior of bicyclists, hikers, and equestrians, all of whom share access to various segments of the City’s trail system. “The campaign also includes information about following all traffic rules, crossing the streets safely, respecting private property, and not altering the trails,” Johnson said.

Tree cut at Trail Rest Park.

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