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Cyclists gain access to Santa Clarita Valley nature trail

October 3, 2012 |  3:48 pm

Canyon Trail users
Cyclists are praising the county’s decision to grant them access to a popular Santa Clarita Valley nature trail, despite the objections of hikers’ groups.

Bikes were prohibited from Canyon Trail in Newhall’s Placerita Canyon Natural Area until 2007, when the county mistakenly posted a "multi-use" sign at the trail head. The nearly two-mile route quickly became a cyclists’ favorite. But hikers complained and last year the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation corrected the signs.

On Wednesday, the county reversed itself, saying it would permit mountain bikes on Canyon Trail. The usage would be contingent upon certain modifications, such as additional signage and choke points to slow down bike traffic, and erosion control measures, according to a statement issued by parks officials.

Officials also decided to keep a prohibition on bikes on the Heritage Trail at the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area in Agua Dulce to protect “significant cultural resources,” there.

“It’s a victory, with respect to the Canyon Trail. We’re disappointed with respect to the Heritage Trail, “said bike enthusiast Kenneth Raleigh, who together with Kevin Korenthal and Tony Arnold formed the Santa Clarita Valley Trail Users  and petitioned the county for equal access for all users on both trails.

But Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, director of Santa Clarita’s Community Hiking Club, was among a chorus of opponents, including walkers and equestrians, who objected to bikes having access to Canyon Trail. They argue that the trail is too narrow, its curves obscure oncoming bikes and horses tend to get spooked by speeding cyclists. They also fear damage to wildlife habitat.

"It was a mistake to post the original multiuse sign and due to a mistake now the mountain bikes have access to a natural area,” said Erskine-Hellrigel,  who described how she was knocked over by two mountain bikers in 2007 while leading a group of children on a nature study walk. She said suffered a concussion and some of the youngsters were also hurt, she said.

“It’s meant to remain calm, quiet, without people racing down,” Erskine-Hellrigel said. “When you have a hiker, a bike and a horse on a trail, you need a lot of room. I may never  go there again.”

Officials said the decision was made after two community meetings and a review of 784 comments on an independent study they commissioned on the issue. Maintenance for both trails would begin within the next few weeks and is expected to be completed in March, when mountain bikes would be allowed back on Canyon Trail, officials said.

Korenthal commended the county for considering all views and said he hoped the cooperation between authorities and trail users would “lead to more trails being opened to all user groups.”


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-- Ann M. Simmons in Santa Clarita

Photo: Canyon Trail users. Credit: Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times