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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As part of some joint trail advocacy I was doing with other trail users, particularly equestrians, I approached Midpen several months ago with some specific feedback about trails and the board president connected me to their planning staff. We have had a few meetings and have an ongoing discussion. My long term goal is to try to influence them to improve and update their trail policies so that they focus more on good trails and less on roads, as well as improving user experience not just for cyclists but for all users. For now I'm focused on future development under Measure AA rather than trying to convince them to change usage for existing trails. From a selfish perspective, I am very interested in the three or more Measure AA projects in Sierra Azul as well as others around Los Gatos where I usually ride. I don't want these projects to end up as a bunch of newly opened fire roads.

One example of policy to improve user experience would be to try to change the current "hierarchy" of hiking-only/hiking-equestrian/full multi-use trails to something more like State Parks which recognizes hiking-biking as a legitimate use. The current system generally guarantees that if they open a road and a trail that connect on both ends, the road will become the bike-legal path and the trail will be hiking-equestrian. If they recognized hiking-biking trails, then they would have more options and the quality of bike access would improve. There is some indication that Midpen is open to such changes as they wrote in a bike-only trail in the Measure AA plan for Skeggs. I believe they recognize that trail policies need an update (they date mostly from 1993) but I don't think they understand all the implications of the current policies on user experience.

In addition to the discussion with staff, I've started to give short presentations during the public input time at the board meetings. I've done this in the last four regular board meetings. I send them one slide which they show and I can speak for three minutes. The theme of these presentations is "Trail Topics." In the first one I mentioned that I had attended a number of board meetings and while the topics discussed are important and interesting, most of the users enjoy the open space via trails and I hadn't heard anything about trails in the meetings. I expressed my intent to speak in small chunks about trails to spread trail advocacy to the board and others.

I'm copying below the summaries of what I spoke to that appear in the board meeting minutes I can expand on these items if anyone is interested, but my main purpose here is to let people know that I'm doing this, and to invite you to attend if you can and provide your support if you're interested. Anyone can comment on any topic that is relevant to Midpen, and you can provide feedback in any of three ways: Spoken, written to be read into the record by the clerk, or written to be provided to the board offline. If you like and support these ideas and the overall direction, please feel free to communicate your thoughts to Midpen:

Members of the public may provide written or oral comments by submitting a public comment form at: https://www.openspace.org/public-comment


Here are the Trail Topics summaries from the board meetings where I've spoken (9/8 was written as I was on a plane during the meeting):

7/28/2021
Craig Gleason, frequent District trail user, spoke regarding the increase in miles of District trails
since the passage of Measure AA. Mr. Gleason provided comments and observations regarding
trails and trail use at District preserves, including the need to advocate for public trails.

8/11/2021
Craig Gleason, frequent District trail user, spoke regarding differences between trails and roads,
stating trails provide a better experience for the user due to their gentler grades, scenic
connection to nature, etc. Mr. Gleason spoke in support of creating additional trails in the
preserves.

8/25/2021
Craig Gleason, frequent District trail user, spoke in support of narrow trails, such as the Saratoga
to the Skyline Trails. Mr. Gleason stated narrow trails provide a better experience for the user
due to their gentler grades, scenic connection to nature, lower impact on the environment, and
designs that can minimize risk to trail users. Mr. Gleason spoke in support of creating additional
trails in the preserves.

9/8/2021
Craig Gleason provided comments suggesting the District differentiate on its trail maps and
planning documents between trails on existing roads and new trails. This is consistent with
California State Parks maps and planning documents for projects, such as San Vicente
Redwoods.


Here's one full transcript of my public comment (this was the introductory one on 7/28):

I'm a frequent user of the open space and I guess I've visited Midpen preserves close to 1000 times on bike or foot. My daughter is an equestrian who rides at Bear Creek. Over the years I've become an enthusiastic trails advocate. I've taken many classes in trail design and maintenance, and I'm also a frequent trailwork volunteer.

This is over-simplifying, but Measure AA represented something of a shift in Midpen's focus, from acquisition and preservation to preservation and access. That's just a reflection that a lot of these lands are now protected from development, and the best way for people to appreciate, learn about, and value the open space is to experience it themselves.

Measure AA projects potentially increase Midpen's trail coverage from about 250 miles to over 400 miles. The trails are the main way that a lot of open space users enjoy the preserves, so I think we can agree that they're a very important part of Midpen's work.

I attended several recent board meetings and I learned a lot. However I didn't hear a lot about trails, and I wanted to start using the public comment period to provide some insight on trails and trail advocacy. My thoughts reflect a lot of conversations I've had with other trail users. As a mountain biker I made a point to reach out to equestrians and hikers to understand their positions and concerns. All of these groups want great trails. As you know, it can take a long time to create new trails and the actual building of the trail is often the easy part. That's why we all need to be strong trail advocates and keep moving these projects forward. We need to have vision and perseverance to create a great trail system. What I'd like to do in these public comment periods is to provide some observations on trail topics and try to spread my enthusiasm for trails to the board and others. I want to acknowledge that directors and management have already provided us a forum for dialog with staff on these topics, so my comments here are just informational.

I'm about out of time for tonight, so I'll just list a few topics that I'd like to address in upcoming comments. I hope that these can be interesting and informative, and occasionally amusing as well. Some of the topics I have in mind are these:

  • The value of narrow or singletrack trails, why we like them, and how they can help manage interactions
  • The drawbacks of fire roads and why we shouldn't think of them the same way as other trails
  • The current mix of Midpen trails and roads and how many of them are open to various users
  • What I learned from equestrians
  • The role of dual use (both hike/equestrian and hike/bike) trails in a modern multi-use trail system
  • The value of trails that connect the Ridge to the Valley
  • The most famous trail in Los Gatos, and why we'd like it not to be
Thanks very much for your good work and I'll look forward to further bothering you about trails in upcoming meetings.
 

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I hope you can make progress. The board is nothing but anti-MTB, and they do all sorts of shenanigans to keep it that way. That said, keep doing the good work. Midpenn isn’t the easiest group to work with, but I’m hoping that’s changing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I hope you can make progress. The board is nothing but anti-MTB, and they do all sorts of shenanigans to keep it that way. That said, keep doing the good work. Midpenn isn't the easiest group to work with, but I'm hoping that's changing.
I've only spoken directly to one board member so I don't know for sure what they think. He has a lot of history and I think he would probably say that he is relatively pro-MTB, in the sense that they made a decision a long time ago to open roughly 60+% of trails to bikes and they have stood by that. However in my opinion they don't really understand the user experience aspects. It's true that >60% of Midpen "trails" are open to bikes but only about 40% of the narrow trails are, and the hierarchical trail policy that I described results inevitably in decisions that are de-facto anti-MTB even if that wasn't the intent.

There's also a question of values and goals. If you want aggressively technical trails, downhill/freeride, etc, then Midpen is never going to offer that, but neither are CA State Parks or our local county Parks. MTB advocates need to find other options on BLM, USFS, or private land for those options. My goal for Midpen preserves would be good cross-country riding on well-designed trails.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
How do you get to be a board member?
There are seven Midpen wards and each one has a board member. In general the board members are elected and serve four year terms, but there is also an appointment process. I think three or four of the current board members were appointed rather than elected. There could be some good reasons for appointments, for example one that has been raised is to make sure they have someone who actually lives by the coast represent the coastal area. In a lot of cases, though, I think the appointment process has been used to preserve the board in its own image. There have been several cases where board members retired or resigned mid-term and their replacements were appointed rather than elected. Commonly, Midpen says it's done to save the taxpayers money, but there was always an alternative to just leave the position open until the next election cycle. Once board members are in, there is a sort of incumbency lock. It would be interesting to know if an incumbent has ever lost a Midpen election.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thank you, Craig. Doing god's work, really. I'm hoping with number of users on this message board, if there's a need to collect petitions or something of such sort - where number of signatures is important, that something everyone can help with.
I think what really can help is to reinforce the message through the public input process. You can comment in any or all of the public meetings, via the link I posted. You don't have to speak as there are the multiple options I listed. I believe Midpen is serious about listening to the input of the public, but in a lot of cases they don't really understand it (for example if some users say they want narrow trails and other users say they want wide trails, Midpen takes that to mean that some want trails and some want fire roads - which I believe is totally wrong). If there are themes that resonate with you, please give them feedback to reinforce those messages.
 

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I know there is a long term goal of connecting the Bay Area Ridge Trail from JNT to Lexington through El Sereno, but is there a general idea of the route? I'm guessing something like Lake Ranch reservoir > PG&E access road > Aquinas > Serenity > hwy17 wildlife crossing > LG Creek Trail?
 

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There are seven Midpen wards and each one has a board member. In general the board members are elected and serve four year terms, but there is also an appointment process. I think three or four of the current board members were appointed rather than elected. There could be some good reasons for appointments, for example one that has been raised is to make sure they have someone who actually lives by the coast represent the coastal area. In a lot of cases, though, I think the appointment process has been used to preserve the board in its own image. There have been several cases where board members retired or resigned mid-term and their replacements were appointed rather than elected. Commonly, Midpen says it's done to save the taxpayers money, but there was always an alternative to just leave the position open until the next election cycle. Once board members are in, there is a sort of incumbency lock. It would be interesting to know if an incumbent has ever lost a Midpen election.
To my knowledge, no incumbent has lost.

When they retire, they usually self-appoint someone with their same views AFAIK (if anyone knows otherwise please correct me).

Back in 2000, they closed a bunch of trails to MTBers. They constantly hurt the trees by removing roots because they are a "hazard." See the history of the root stair steps on Saratoga Gap.

Rangers are hit and miss. Jeff who lived at Fremont Older (might still) is an awesome guy. Some are not.

I'm hoping that in a post Covid world with more people exploring the trails means they'll be more open to better trail access (even XC) but I'm not holding my breath.
 

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  • The most famous trail in Los Gatos, and why we'd like it not to be
And that trail is ... ?!

Aside from that, well written (and spoken). It's too bad that we're at a point that building a new trail is, as you mention, the easiest part.

One of these days I am going to take all MROSD maps and determine how many trails/fireroads were in existence upon land acquisition versus how many new trails/roads they've actually built. I'm guessing it's a low ROI in terms of recreational opportunities, though their greenspace preservation accomplishments must be lauded.

Keep in mind that most, if not all, of Los Gatos' open space trails and fire roads, are the result of PG&E requiring access to their powerlines. They've acquired lots of new land in Sierra Azul in the last few years, but I'm guessing 99.924% of it will remain off-limits for a long, long time.

Access to the old hunting grounds with the lake behind the gates at the end of Pheasant Road (where there's also an MROSD private ranger residence) are in the works, but that's only going to be after the Guadalupe Dam seismic retrofit project is completed; the water company is going to use the land on the corner of Pheasant and Hicks as staging for the construction and will convert it into a trailhead parking lot once they're finished and hand it over to MROSD as payment. I'll guesstimate 2035 before we're hiking/horseback riding up to that lake, with biking allowed 15 years later (I'm using the Bear Creek Redwoods Hike/Horse Now, Bike Later Algorithm).
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I know there is a long term goal of connecting the Bay Area Ridge Trail from JNT to Lexington through El Sereno, but is there a general idea of the route? I'm guessing something like Lake Ranch reservoir > PG&E access road > Aquinas > Serenity > hwy17 wildlife crossing > LG Creek Trail?
One of the planners spoke to part of this in a meeting we had. I think their current thinking is to re-assign the Ridge Trail to Limekiln (from Priest Rock). Then they want to build a connecting trail down from St. Joseph's hill to Limekiln, and I guess part of that might also become Ridge Trail. I'm not sure exactly what they will do for connections to the other side of the dam, but over there they will connect to both El Sereno and Bear Creek off-road. It's essentially what you said from there. I believe the current plan is to have separate wildlife and pedestrian crossings (animals under 17 and people over). The likely place for the pedestrian crossing is near the top of the "goat hill" on the Creek Trail. The trail would then go up the hill via some existing road grades and some new trail and join with the Serenity trail. On the Sanborn side, they would use parts of the PG&E trail that are on public land (much of it crosses a bunch of private plots). I'm not sure of the exact routing up to El Sereno - there is a corridor through public land but it's skinny so I'm not sure if they have all that mapped out.
 

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Yes. Either allow us to hold an annual Kamikaze-like DH race on it, or shut it down and replace it with a nice piece of singletrack, ala Mount Umunhum Trail (formerly Hummingbird Trail).

My favorite time of the year is on the Turkey Day Ride when they decide that it's a good idea to park an 8-foot wide truck on a 12-foot wide fire road on the left-hand off-camber turn halfway down Dogmeat, with a ranger standing by telling us to slow down.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Great to see the work you are doing.

Are you talking to them at all about e-mtb access as part of your effort?
I mentioned this in another thread somewhere. I'm trying to focus on what I've outlined above and not diverge into ebike topics, but my original contact with Curt Riffle, the president of the board, was to give some feedback on ebikes. I heard he was soliciting input at an equestrian ride that a friend of mine joined so I reached out to him about it. Somewhere on mtbr I wrote down some thoughts on ebikes that people might want to consider when giving input to Midpen.

In at least two of the board meetings I attended, someone gave feedback on ebike access. I'd encourage anyone who is interested to do the same.

The board member I spoke to said they were roughly split anti/neutral/pro on ebikes, and he felt the current studies they are doing would help sort it out. I believe Midpen people are taking input weekends at Calero right now.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
One of these days I am going to take all MROSD maps and determine how many trails/fireroads were in existence upon land acquisition versus how many new trails/roads they've actually built. I'm guessing it's a low ROI in terms of recreational opportunities, though their greenspace preservation accomplishments must be lauded.
Do you mean Skeggs or elsewhere? Skeggs was probably an environmental disaster. I understand why MTB riders would have been upset, but they probably did the right thing for the environment. The newer projects have been fairly good as well (eliminating bad roads and replacing with trails). I wish they would double down on that - Skeggs now has something like 13 miles of narrow trails and 22 miles of roads, and the roads in some cases lead to the same places so they seem pretty redundant.

I would be very interested in any hard info that people have on when different trails were built, either before or after Midpen's acquisition. I've been trying to piece together some of that info but it's not often easy.

BTW I don't have any illusion that things will happen quickly, but there are a lot of real projects and funding associated with Measure AA. They will do those projects and they will be better or worse depending on the values they apply, the input they hear, the policies they have and so forth. So I believe that things like updating to more modern trail policies (e.g. recognizing hike/bike trails as a legitimate and important type) can make a difference and that's why I'm doing this and asking for others to provide their input.
 

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I mentioned this in another thread somewhere. I'm trying to focus on what I've outlined above and not diverge into ebike topics, but my original contact with Curt Riffle, the president of the board, was to give some feedback on ebikes. I heard he was soliciting input at an equestrian ride that a friend of mine joined so I reached out to him about it. Somewhere on mtbr I wrote down some thoughts on ebikes that people might want to consider when giving input to Midpen.

In at least two of the board meetings I attended, someone gave feedback on ebike access. I'd encourage anyone who is interested to do the same.

The board member I spoke to said they were roughly split anti/neutral/pro on ebikes, and he felt the current studies they are doing would help sort it out. I believe Midpen people are taking input weekends at Calero right now.
Thanks. Yes, Midpen is surveying users, in partnership with Santa Clara county parks, through early October to get park user feedback on e-bike use in those areas. They survey at Calero and Sanborn (on the JNT.)
 

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Thanks. Yes, Midpen is surveying users, in partnership with Santa Clara county parks, through early October to get park user feedback on e-bike use in those areas. They survey at Calero and Sanborn (on the JNT.)
I've done it a dozen times already, ranger pretends he does not recognize me :D and he says most people he surveys have nothing against e-bikes, so I'm hopeful I'll be able to ride my e-bike in Skeggs one day
 

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I've done it a dozen times already, ranger pretends he does not recognize me :D and he says most people he surveys have nothing against e-bikes, so I'm hopeful I'll be able to ride my e-bike in Skeggs one day
And you'll still get popped for going over 15mph...
 
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