ESCONDIDO — Vandals struck and left untold damage through at least a half-mile stretch of the Escondido Creek Conservancy.
The Escondido Creek Conservancy Executive Director Ann Van Leer said one or more people constructed an illegal one-mile mountain bike path. Van Leer said the organization discovered the vandalism in December, which also ran through another private property in Harmony Heights, near the San Marcos and Escondido border.
She said each property had about one-half mile of pathway and it appears the illegal trail had been there for some time, although Van Leer could not estimate.
“I get pretty upset and it’s very concerning that people don’t understand the value that is there,” Van Leer said. “The trail makers, whoever they were, were taking steps to conceal themselves. They had equipment tucked underneath the vegetation. Unless you were down on your hands and knees, you really couldn’t see it.”
The conservancy has partnered with the San Diego Mountain Bike Association to assist with the assessment of damage and steps moving forward. Susie Murphy, executive director of the association, said illegal construction of trails is a problem throughout the county.
Murphy added it is difficult to reach those who feel the need to destroy protected habitat on private property.
“It’s nothing new and people have been going into canyons and think they can do anything they want without checking land ownership,” she said. “It’s just a matter of ongoing education. You are kind of dealing with some people who aren’t interested in following the rules anyway, so they are definitely a hard audience to reach.”
However, she is encouraging her group and residents to join the conservancy on March 4 for a restoration event. Van Leer said the work is hard over rough terrain, but worth the effort to begin the restoration efforts.
She said bringing back the affected area could take years, as chaparral and coast sage scrub was destroyed. The conservancy will replant then reseed in the fall in hopes for a wet winter next year to expedite the growth process.
For now, Van Leer and the conservancy want to prevent erosion through their efforts on March 4. In addition, the restoration efforts will also include combating invasive plant species.
“There’s not a lot of non-native plants,” she said. “The goal is to let the native seeds repopulate. There are some areas where we will go in and restore.”
As for conservancy, the group’s mission is to protect and foster the Escondido Creek Watershed. The watershed runs from Escondido through Encinitas as the Escondido Creek feeds the Pacific Ocean.
With the coastal sage scrub, and within Harmony Heights, the conservancy is also protecting the California gnatcatcher, which is on the federal threatened list. With its protection plan, the conservancy purchases property with protections or the ability to receive such designations to protect the gnatcatcher and other protected or endangered species.
In addition, the conservancy will not develop any new trails in the area in an effort to preserve the intact habitat.
“We welcome respectful use of our land,” Van Leer said. “Most of our land has some public use. We want people to stay on the trails and respect that the land has been protected for wildlife.”
To join The Escondido Creek Conservancy on March 4, call (760) 471-9354 or email Nathan Serrato at Nathan@escondidocreek.org.