Flowtrail project in Lime Ridge Open Space abandoned

Walnut Creek has plans for a controversial three-kilometer-long “flow trail” for mountain bikers on the summit of Lime Ridgeand referred to town administration's decision to offer priority to major leisure projects which can be already underway.

Public Works Director Mike Vickers pointed to the “extraordinary” period of time and energy required for ongoing capital improvement plans in the approaching years, which received additional funding after Voters approved Measure O in 2022. This project list features a Overhaul value $77 million the swimming pools and community center of Heather Farm Park, renovations of town Boundary Oak Golf Course Driving range, ball field lighting system at Self parking (free) in Tice Valley and lawn substitute for Heather Farm Park Sports fields.

Nearly five years ago, Walnut Creek began discussing ways to stop the rapid spread of unauthorized mountaineering trails and forestall the destruction of sensitive plants and erosion in Lime Ridge, a 1,200-acre strip of land on the eastern fringe of town.

Although cyclists make up 40 to 50 percent of all open space users, problems with dangerous trails are not any longer an issue, Vickers said, because of rangers' efforts to construct relationships with cyclists and educate them about trail etiquette.

“Today, many of those trails have been restored and the open space is in much better shape than it has ever been,” Vickers said June 3, abruptly breaking the news in the ultimate minutes of the town meeting. Meeting of the Parks and Recreation Open Spaces Committee (PROS)“We will focus our efforts on these larger projects and spend less time on discretionary projects.”

Staff decommissioned the flow trail before the certification process began, however the project's initial assessment, conceptual design and preliminary environmental impact evaluation were accomplished. Vickers insisted the choice was not related to concerns about harm to the ridge's habitat, despite comments from neighbors and the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

“We can't get this far without working with the city attorneys,” Vickers said Wednesday. “If this project violated any of the documents, we wouldn't move forward.”

However, some residents of the Rancho Paraiso community south of Lime Ridge feel vindicated by the choice, as they argued in 2021 that town had not adequately studied the potential negative impacts of the trail on the encircling environment and neighborhood.

Local resident Valerie Gardner led the charge against the trail, accusing town of catering to mountain bikers. She and other opponents feared the trail would exacerbate traffic and parking problems on their streets by attracting much more mountain bikers to the open space that had gained popularity through the pandemic. Residents began online petitions claiming the trail would allow cyclists to rework Lime Ridge from a peaceful oasis with 25 miles of trails right into a cycling hotspot — and picked up about 2,800 signatures for each Petitions.

“They wanted to build jumps, banks and switchbacks that are all not natural,” Gardner said Wednesday, describing the design as a man-made “thrill ride” for mountain bikes. “I don't know how you can say that doesn't have an environmental impact – that's a bit preposterous.”

Gardner argues that Lime Ridge ought to be preserved as a part of the entire. 2,700 hectares of city parks, open space and rights-of-way – prompted by a 1974 bond that voters passed to combat rapidly expanding development into the foothills of Mount Diablo. She said cyclists who support the trail are demanding more access than they deserve, and compared town's flow trail plan to a parent rewarding a misbehaving child with a toy.

“I think people try to label and bully with the word 'NIMBY' like it's a dirty word, but no, I don't want that in my backyard – I don't want that in anyone's backyard if it's a protected open space,” Gardner said. “I've enjoyed the view of these hills for 30 years and I don't want to see them ruined by people who are so reckless in their preservation.”

She maintained that town's environmental planning documents “have been found to be deficient for numerous reasons and by numerous sources” and that “the city's arrogance in ignoring the environmental impacts led to the project's cancellation.”

However, Vickers immediately denied these allegations.

“The irony of (the neighbors' push to preserve this land) is that it is the city's responsibility to 'save' Lime Ridge,” he said. “We are trying to find all the pieces of the puzzle to meet the needs of all users while keeping the environment top of mind. I stand behind every aspect of this project.”

Vickers confirmed that no additional flow trails are currently proposed for Walnut Creek.

Instead, he said planning staff will proceed to make progress on the committee members' other 16 recommendations. published in 2020 as a guide for management of town's open spaces. This list ranges from increasing the variety of informational signs and kiosks along trails to closing unauthorized trails which can be potentially dangerous and destructive.

PROS Chairman Brendan Moran thanked Vickers and city staff for all their efforts to maneuver the project forward despite its premature end.

“I know you've invested a lot of time in dealing with a lot of different stakeholders, and maybe this can be revisited later, maybe not,” Moran said June 3. “But the city clearly has a lot of work ahead of it, and that goes for you and your staff, too.”

image credit : www.mercurynews.com