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Progress on the trail

From Horsetrader staff reports - July 17th, 2014 - Communities

BONITA — Thanks to a campaign by members of a local riding group, a popular recreational trail near the Sweetwater Valley reservoir reopened June 25 after being closed for six months.

In order to protect an endangered species known as the “fairy shrimp” from equestrians as well as hikers and bikers, the South Side Trail, which runs from the regional Sweetwater Summit Park east to the mountains and into Jamul, was closed when the water agency decided to close the trail temporarily to reduce the risk of enforcement by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding the Endangered Species Act.

Last Dec. 3, the Bonita Valley Riders, led by President Diane Carter, held a meeting with San Diego County and the Sweetwater Authority, and more than 200 trail-users showed up.

“Sweetwater Water Authority has recognized that environmental protection and recreational use can co-exist and can even be helpful — afterall, trail-users love and want to preserve the environment,” said Carter. “That’s why we use the trails.”

Vernal pools had formed along this particular trail after rainfall last year, causing fairy shrimp to become active, leading to the closure.

In March, after trail users expressed their disapproval of a closure, a 30-day public review period commenced, as parties sought a resolution to reopen the trail.

“Recreation use and environmental protection need to be able to coexist and they can coexist,” said Carter, whose nonprofit organization promotes trail acquisition, development, preservation and maintenance. “One without the other is a bad.”

The authority and county applied for and received a temporary permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services on May 9 to build three boardwalks at a reported cost to the county of $30,000. They’ll act as a protective cover for five years, after which time the agencies must find a permanent trail or it will be shut down again.

In the last six months, the three agencies met and ultimately formed a subcommittee including authority and county representatives.The body had its first meeting in May to identify and address issues related to the county and authority with one priority being the trails.

“I’m very excited we were able to work this out with the community, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Sweetwater Authority and we are able to reopen this trail for the enjoyment of the public,” county Supervisor Greg Cox said.

The public has access to the trail by way of a revocable license agreement between the county and authority granted years back. The authority is responsible for protecting the habitat because it owns the land, so caretakers will maintain the trails monthly to make sure they’re not degraded.

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