Bike Enthusiasts to Hit the Trails at O'Neill Park

Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

Last year, the Orange County Trails Coalition decided to hold a Trails Awareness Fun Ride for mountain bikers in Caspers Regional Park, only to fall victim to a rare June rainstorm.

Even so, organizers said, they had a healthy turnout, generating enough donations to buy the county some water-shunting bars (later installed by volunteers) to help control trail erosion and also five mountain bikes for rangers to use on patrol.

The coalition is back with plans for a second event, this one on Saturday at O'Neill Regional Park. The day will include group trail rides for all ability levels, a children's obstacle course that will also teach trail-riding basics (BMX bikes OK), live entertainment and a raffle for $5,000 in prizes, including bicycles. In addition, participants are invited to camp at the park Friday night at no additional charge.

But the function has a purpose beyond simply providing a good time. Organizers hope to recruit some new trail volunteers through the event.

"There are so many ways volunteers can get involved in an easy fashion," said Patrick Henry of the trails coalition. "They don't have to spend all their free days sweating in the sun."

Although much of the focus Saturday is on bikes, equestrians and hikers are welcome as well and will have walks and rides scheduled through the day.

As an added bonus, two new trails will be previewed.

One is a multiuse path about three miles long, mostly dirt, connecting O'Neill to the El Toro Bike Path paralleling El Toro Road. It's the first step in a long-range plan to connect many of the county's parks by off-road paths, and it will remain open after Saturday.

The other new path is the long-awaited Arroyo Trabuco trail, about seven miles of dirt path along a sycamore-lined canyon. The trail will open permanently in a few months after Caltrans completes bridge construction nearby.

Orange County Trails Coalition is organizing the event with the county Department of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, with bicycle component maker Shimano the main corporate sponsor. Mechanics from Shimano and from Giant bicycles will be on hand to provide free bike checks. In addition, numerous companies and organizations with an interest in trail issues will take part.

Public agencies, under increasing financial pressure, are having more and more difficulty maintaining park facilities, and there has even been talk of closing some parks. Orange County Trails Coalition is among many county groups that organize volunteer labor to maintain and repair trails. Some groups, such as SHARE at Crystal Cove State Park, even help patrol trails and thus reduce the friction between mountain bikers and other trail users.

Saturday, the bike routes will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. From noon to 5 p.m., trail-support groups and others will be on hand to offer information on their activities and sell food for lunch.

* What: Trails Awareness Fun Ride.

* When: Saturday, May 14, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

* Where: O'Neill Regional Park.

* Whereabouts: From the San Diego (405) Freeway, exit at El Toro Road and go west into the foothills. Turn right on Live Oak Canyon Road at Cooks Corner, and follow the road several miles to the park entrance.

* Wherewithal: $25 ($10 for children 12 and under).

* Where to call: (714) 890-3925.

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