February 17, 2010 | 11:13 am
Orange County park rangers, conservationists and volunteers will join forces Saturday to dismantle an illegal mountain bike course built in an off-limits forest area.
The elaborate network of wooden bridges, jumps, illegal trails and sandbag-reinforced switchbacks was built on about an acre of land in Limestone Canyon and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, apparently by avid mountain bikers, officials said.
Mountain bikers have built illegal trails in many Orange County parks, said Senior Park Ranger Vicky Malton, who added she had never seen such structures built in this particular park before.
The course was discovered last fall when interns with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy were working to reintroduce prickly pear cacti to the forest after the 2007 Santiago fire and stumbled upon it.
The trail builders destroyed native plants and threatened the habitat of the nesting cactus wren, Malton said. Without enough plants to hold down hillsides, the barren trails raised the risk of erosion. Efforts to “re-brush” the area, or place natural debris and sometimes plant vegetation over the illegal trails, were being sabotaged, she said.
“They keep clearing the same trails or making new ones,” Malton said. “It’s a constant battle.”
Efforts to dismantle the course had to be put on hold during recent rainstorms, said David Raetz, deputy director for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, adding that he hoped the larger mountain biking community would support the effort to keep certain areas of the park free of human intrusion.
“We live in such an urban area that it’s even more important to leave the natural areas the way they are so they can survive,” Raetz said. “They have to be in balance. … We don’t want to love it to death by continuing to overuse it.”
— Amina Khan