LAGUNA HILLS : Mountain Bikers Seek Access to Park

More than 30 mountain bikers rallied at a Coastal Greenbelt Authority meeting this week to urge access to parts of a mammoth new park.

The 2,500 acres of publicly owned land could become strictly limited until an impact study is complete, which could take several years, said officials of the four-member authority, which was appointed to manage the seven-mile wilderness preserve.

The bikers protested a temporary management proposal that includes barring mountain bikes until the impact of public access on sensitive wildlife habitats is determined.

"Bicyclists are more concerned with just getting a limited blanket area where we can ride than getting carte blanche on the land," said Scott Truesdell, who produces a newsletter for SHARE, a local cyclists club.

The controversy involves Laguna Laurel, Sycamore Hills, Laguna Heights and part of the Irvine Coast. Those areas are part of the 10,000-acre park bordering Laguna Beach. Hikers and bicyclists are now allowed only in Laguna Heights, which is near the Top of the World neighborhood. Sycamore Hills is open to hikers just once a month, and then only on selected months.

The interim plan, which is not finalized, proposes that equestrians and "bikers will be encouraged to use Aliso and Wood Canyons Regional Park"--and barred from the disputed acreage.

Last week, the Laguna Beach City Council endorsed the plan restricting access, siding with preservationists who argued that limits are needed until biologists can recommend which areas can withstand various activities.

"My inclination is to be very conservative," Coastal Greenbelt Authority member Elisabeth Brown said.

Other more fragile areas might never be opened at all to the public, to preserve the land as wilderness, she said.

But protesters argued that they should be allowed to ride now in parts of the park--even if it means only in docent-led bike tours--especially if supervised hiking tours are permitted.

"I was under the impression, when we voted in Proposition H, that there would be access to everyone," said John Furlong, referring to the $78-million bond initiative that Laguna Beach residents approved to buy the land.

"I think it's important we consider all users right off the bat," he said, "because we are all paying the taxes on this land."

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