Open Space

Imagine space: with the 50-year anniversary of Apollo 11 celebrated just last month, perhaps in your mind you see the astronauts walking on the moon, including Laguna Beach local Buzz Aldrin.

Imagine space: space for safety, as you drive, between you and the car in front of you, or your personal space that you hope others don’t invade.

Imagine OPEN space. What comes to mind? If you are a hiker, biker, photographer, equestrian, naturalist, dog lover who enjoys dog-friendly places, or even someone who lives near the wilderness, you’re probably thinking of Aliso and Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness Parks and Crystal Cove State Park. These open spaces surround us with beautiful hills of biodiverse wildlife habitat and are home to a plethora of animals, including deer, bobcats, weasels, lotus hairstreak butterflies, and red-tailed hawks, to name a few.

A couple of months ago, a hiker and biker got into a fistfight on the trails. Those that witnessed the results said both ended up bloody and marching toward the ranger station. What was to be a wonderful day out in the wilderness turned into a painful and difficult situation for everyone associated with the scene, including witnesses and rangers.

Sport lovers know that whether in football, basketball or soccer, often it’s not the first player who fouls that gets the penalty called against them, it’s the second, the retaliator. Why? Because that’s what the referee saw. So does it really matter who was the initial offender? In the end, both engaged.

How can we create space for each other in the wilderness and on the trails? I asked our volunteers – both hikers and bikers – what their reactions were when they learned about this fight. Comments include:

“… the precedent has been set that MTBs [mountain bikers] are a danger to other users and impact the land far more negatively than any other user. I would like to see an MTB culture that values giving back to the land …”

“… I like to walk my dogs on the trails, but we only stay on dog friendly trails like Westridge and Aswut, and I pick up after my dogs. Just abiding by the rules and being friendly to all goes a long way for everyone enjoying the trails.”

 “… I have seen bikers waiting patiently at the top of 5 Oaks for hikers to clear the trail prior to beginning their downhill run. I’ve watched in envy the banking of turns and getting air and the big smiles and acknowledging thanks from the bikers as they quickly go by the hikers…”

“… as bikers are approaching, I’ve witnessed other hikers stand their ground in the middle of the trail to make an unnecessary point that they have the right-of-way. It created a weird and intensely claustrophobic situation, like something’s gonna blow and I can’t get away…”

Non-Dot, which dedicated a newsletter about the fistfight, encouraged its members to “… say hello to everyone you come across … slow up and communicate! Remember, there is a 10 MPH speed limit in the parks. While it may not make sense to mountain bikers, this limit is put into place for the safety of all users. We need to be in control and be able to stop at a moment’s notice. Give compliments when you are passing on a climb. Make sure the horses see you, stop as needed and get off the bike if needed.”

One of our amazing and dedicated volunteers, Jeremy Carver, commented: “Marin County, the birth place of MTB, is an example of when the MTB Community doesn’t address the perception that we are just a bunch of hooligans. The Marin County community has virtually banned MTB from everything but a few fire roads.”  Jeremy continues: “If I want an active voice, I not only need to be a steward of the trails but also understand the mission of those overseeing the land.”

Larry Clemons, another long-time volunteer, with hundreds of volunteer hours served, shared, “What do I do as a volunteer? I smile and acknowledge everyone I come across on the trail. I move out of the way and let others go by, regardless of if they are a hiker or a biker. I share the trail, especially with equestrian riders. If on a bike, I stop and move way over to the side of the trail and give that horse plenty of room.”

Space. It’s what we’re all out there for. That and, as Jeremy says, “Friends, community and good laughs.”