LAGUNA HILLS : Happy Trails Vanishing, Rider Says

Jan Graham was riding her horse on the trail paralleling La Paz Road in Laguna Hills when rider and mount were confronted by the traffic intersection.

While drivers waited, the nervous horse and rider crossed Moulton Parkway. Reaching the other side, the horse, spooked by the traffic, threw Graham.

Increasingly, horses and their riders in South Orange County are coming into direct contact with heavy traffic as development creates large gaps and missing links in the network of horse trails.

Members of the Orange County Recreational Trails Committee, a private group chaired by Graham, say that equestrian, bicycle and hiking trails are disappearing at an alarming rate and no one is doing anything to stop it. The members, all residents of the Nellie Gail community in Laguna Hills, hope to work with officials and developers to reverse the trend, Graham said.

Recreational trails are an advantage, she said. "I have read that they increase the value of homes by 6% and that is quite a lot. We definitely want to cooperate with the developers, not confront them.

Graham said the Orange County Master Trails Plan, which was accepted more than 10 years ago by the county, has become little more than a piece of paper over the last few years. The plan was developed by the Horseman's Assn., a group of people from all over Orange County who were involved in trails and trail systems, Graham said. After the county adopted the plan as a guideline, the group disbanded.

And then the plan faded.

When members of the Recreational Trails Committee visited Supervisor Thomas F. Riley's office, Graham said, both sides made discoveries.

"We told him that this wonderful master trails plan was not being carried through. He was totally amazed," Graham said. "He assumed that this plan, having been adopted, that it was being watched and being adhered to, and he was amazed to find out it was not a reality."

Donna MacGillivray, the president of the Nellie Gail Ranch Riders, said that although Nellie Gail's 17 miles of trails aren't in danger, equestrians face problems outside that vicinity.

"So many near-accidents have occurred now that horses are being forced to cross the street," she said. "Drivers in this area have the attitude that they don't even have to slow down.

"I think the trails add so much to the ambience of Orange County; I hate to see it disappear," she said. "If you see something that blocks the trail, tell us."

Graham said that what the committee seeks most is public awareness of the problems, some of which could be fixed without major expense.

"That's an important point," Graham said, "that we're not talking about money, we're talking about attention."

For example, Graham's ill-fated crossing of Moulton Parkway occurred because a tunnel under the highway for bikers, joggers and horses had become impassable. It could have been fixed with only a drain, she said.

"We're just not a high priority," she added, "but, strangely enough, when you add together the hikers, the bikers and the trail riders, you've got a lot of people.

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