When neighbors backing up to sections of New York Creek Nature Preserve received a letter from the El Dorado Hills Community Services District on Jan. 18 stating that imminent work would begin between the end of January and early March, weather permitting, to widen portions of the dirt trail between Jackson Elementary and the CSD to 8 feet some said, “Not so fast.”
While some residents have called for more time and explanation, CSD staff reiterated that during the district’s master planning process last year many community members expressed interest in enhancing El Dorado Hills’ trails.
“The project will retain the trail’s natural surface and widen the trail to 8 feet where the topography and natural surroundings permit,” Director of Recreation Jill Ritzman explained. “For example, if the trail narrows between a large boulder and large tree, the tree and boulder would not be removed. The trail would either be re-routed or simply stay narrow between those resources.”
Parts of the trail are already 8 feet wide but to widen other areas to 8 feet, Ritzman said, vegetation would be removed mostly with hand tools. Limbs and brush would be trimmed from the trail sides and overhead.
For years, signs have been posted prohibiting bikes or motor vehicles on the trail and Fairchild Village resident Eric Hildebrandt said he wants it to stay that way. Many cyclists already use the trail and create many “near misses” with pedestrians and pets despite the rule now, he added. Hildebrandt has lived on Brackenwood Place for four years and said he purposely moved there from another El Dorado Hills neighborhood because of its natural beauty.
“It’s why people buy property there,” he told Village Life.
Within 24 hours of receiving the letter he created the group Friends of New York Creek. Hildebrandt said many of his neighbors have joined him in their concern to stop the trail work as they fear it will open the trail up for more as-of-now unauthorized bike use.
The main issue is whether the no bike designation would be upheld with the trail enhancements.
EDHCSD General Manager Kevin Loewen said the CSD Board of Directors would have to vote to change the bike designation at a later date.
“The natural trail portion of New York Creek trail is posted with a prohibition of bikes. Unfortunately, that rule is not entirely adhered to,” Loewen said. “Acknowledging that fact, our intent was to move forward with installation of interpretive signage and widen the trail to accommodate the defacto multi use. The matter of truly designating the trail as multi-use was not addressed yet. Therefore the signs with ‘no biking’ language on them would remain until the Board of Directors has an opportunity to make such a policy change.”
“Many residents believe the area should be kept as a nature trail for pedestrians and pets and that converting it to a bike trail will significantly destroy the natural beauty and serenity of the area,” Hildebrandt said. “We believe this will create a safety concern for pedestrians and that the money budgeted for the project would be better spent to improve biking opportunities elsewhere in El Dorado Hills.”
“The district would like to make the trail safer for all users by widening it,” Ritzman said, adding that the district plans to retain the current wooded characteristics of the trail. “In some areas it is narrow, has trip hazards, brush overhead and limited sight lines around tight turns. Only one small tree may be removed due to its proximity to the trail and its declining health. No other trees or shrubs will be removed and the natural scenery of the riparian corridor will be protected.”
The project has been approved by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and El Dorado County and in June 2016 the CSD Board of Directors approved a funding allocation of $200,000 for “New York Creek Trail Multi-Use & Improvements” for fiscal year 2016-17.
CSD staff has agreed to delay the work until after they hear public comments at the monthly CSD Board of Directors meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9. Staff also announced they will host a trail walk at 4 p.m. this Wednesday, Feb. 8, for interested residents.
Making the trail wider in some places is only a part of the overall project.
“New interpretive and information signs are also part of it,” Ritzman said. “In 2015 Oak Ridge High School students created artwork depicting interpretive signs and messages about the natural and cultural resources on the trail. The art work is being used by the American River Conservancy to create 10 new interpretive signs to be placed along the trail. A wider trail will allow for trail users to stop and read the signs without impeding other trail users.”
Ritzman also said the original project funding request included anticipated costs related to storm water pollution prevention and drainage corrections. “Since then, district staff has confirmed that the work could be limited in such a way to eliminate the need for drainage corrections and storm water pollution prevention measures,” she added.
Hildebrandt says he doesn’t want the enhancements and thinks the plan would mean a lose-lose for the nature preserve either way. “If they do clear an 8-foot path by clearing vegetation it will destroy the natural beauty,” he said. “If they don’t widen it 8 feet in every part it will still be bringing in cyclists and the near misses between pedestrians and bikers will even get worse.”
Hildebrandt said he is also concerned that open access will bring crime and vandalism. “Say no to bikes and then let’s talk about trail improvements,” he added. “Instead of enforcing the ‘no bike’ rule they’re making it multi-use or bending so that cyclists can use it. It’s the only place in El Dorado Hills that I know of just for pedestrians and pets. To me it’s like rezoning.”
He said he’d like to see more time to get public feedback before the CSD begins the work. He also said he’d like to see the trail spruced up by clearing out downed trees and debris, but to stop short of widening it.
For more information meet at the CSD Parks Office at 1030 St. Andrew’s Drive at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, where staff will be available to answer questions and describe the project and, weather permitting, hit the trail. Attend the CSD board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in the Norm Rowett Pavilion on Harvard Way.