USFS Palomar District Trail Development
Land Manager: Cleveland National Forest
The Palomar Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest encompasses approximately 128,863 acres of National Forest System lands and is located in central and northern San Diego county and portions of southern Riverside county. Elevation ranges from 880 feet to 6,140 feet on Palomar Mountain.
While it is stated there are 95 miles of hiking trails on the Palomar these include significant segments the Pacific Crest Trail and 3 equestrian trails, a wild and scenic river - the San Luis Rey, almost 16,000 acres of forest through the Agua Tigua Wilderness. These trails and areas, for the most part, do not accommodate for or allow mountain biking. There is one trail on the entire district that allows bikes and that is Cedar Creek Falls which requires a permit and is generally so busy with hikers it doesn't make for a quality mountain bike experience.
Regrettably, the Orosco Ridge Trails plan was soundly rejected by the Palomar district in 2019, SDMBA continues to work with the US Forest Service staff at the forest and district level to determine a suitable area on the Palomar District for trail development that would accommodate mountain bikers and other uses. In 2020, SDMBA and the Cleveland National Forest entered into a formal Memorandum of Understanding which establishes a framework for future collaboration and project development. Part of this MOU states that the USFS shall "work with SDMBA to identify opportunities and areas for specialized mountain bicycling in accordance with special use permit requirements and other applicable legal requirements."
Formalizing this relationship is a big step to bringing more trails that will allow mountain biking to the over 125,000 acres of the Palomar District.
Please read the vision and timeline below for the history of the Orosco Ridge Trails Project. SDMBA continues to develop our relationship with the Palomar District and to stand by the idea that there is a path forward to create a mutually beneficial plan for provide more recreational trails in the area.
Orosco Ridge Trails Plan - The Vision (2017)
Less than an hour from central San Diego, Pamo Valley boasts over 20,000 acres of contiguous Forest Service land that currently has little to no trails that allow mountain biking. The vision for the Pamo Valley area, north of Ramona, is to create a system wide concept plan for a sustainable and connected trail system that will become a valuable asset to the region and a place for people to experience and connect to their public lands.
Mountain biking continues to be a rapidly growing sport with an estimated 50,000 riders in San Diego. In addition, more people are finding hiking, trail running, backpacking and other outdoor activities a necessary release in the modern world. In a rapidly growing county like San Diego, more people are trying to use fewer trails leading to user conflict, user-created trails, environmental impacts and unsatisfied users. The need is great for a well planned and sustainable trail system in Pamo Valley so this pressure can be decreased.
SDMBA, in cooperation with the Palomar District of the US Forest Service, is working to produce a concept master trails plan that will include trails for all skill levels of mountain bikers from beginner to expert and downhill and will also include many miles of multi-use trails to be enjoyed by hikers, cyclists, equestrians, trail runners and other lovers of the outdoors.
There are some significant hurdles to cross before we get to any implementation phases, but we have worked with the Forest Service to identify mechanisms to assist with unbudgeted proposals in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. SDMBA will also be signing on to assist in the building, and ongoing maintenance of these trails with our many skilled and passionate volunteers.
November 2016: staff from the Cleveland National Forest and Palomar Ranger District attend SDMBA meeting. USFS staff present Pamo Valley and Orosco Ridge as a prime location for new trail opportunities.
February 2017: Will Metz, Cleveland National Forest Supervisor, provides SDMBA a Letter of Intent.
April 2017: SDMBA Board allocates $5,000 towards design for trails at Orosco Ridge.
May 2017: REI awards SDMBA a $15,000 grant to assist in the designing of trails at Orosco Ridge.
June 2017: SDMBA pays IMBA Trail Solutions for Master Planning throughout Orosco Ridge and Pamo Valley spending nearly $24,000 on planning documents.
July 2017: Christopher Dowling, Palomar District Ranger, produces a Letter of Priority for the project on Orosco Ridge.
August 2017: SDMBA raises an additional $29,000 through crowdsourcing to cover USFS staff time to complete studies needed under NEPA.
September 2017: SDMBA and Cleveland National Forest enter into a Collection Agreement to reimburse USFS for staff time to complete NEPA review.
October 2017: NEPA for this project officially begins.
November 2017: SDMBA, and USFS partner to hold a Trail Stewardship Summit in San Diego County to highlight this project and success in Region 5 with over 100 participants.
January 2018: SDMBA launches a subsequent fundraising campaign to crowdsource an additional $20,000 to cover additional staff time and a higher level of study/planning at the request of USFS.
February 2018: SDMBA hires Drew Perkins Consulting and spends $15,000 at the request of USFS for a higher level of planning and closer corridors for NEPA review.
April 2018: A 30 day comment period opened up with over 500 comments in favor of this project including government, individuals, business, chamber of commerce, and non-profit partners.
April 2018: District Ranger Christopher Dowling leaves the Palomar Ranger District
July-December 2018: Cleveland National Forest bills SDMBA nearly $9,000 for Forest Service staff time for the NEPA review.
August 2018: Amy Reid becomes District Ranger for the Palomar District.
October 2018: SDMBA staff meet with District Ranger Amy Reid to discuss Orosco Ridge project.
February 2019: SDMBA staff meeting with Palomar Ranger staff after finding out that all studies have been put on hold.
August 2019: SDMBA receives notice that the Pamo Valley Project has been cancelled by the Palomar District of the Cleveland National Forest. SDMBA submits comments in opposition to the District decision. Communications also held with Region 5 of the US Forest Service. SDMBA and some members send comments to local Congressional representatives as well as local County Supervisors.
San Diego Reader article from the time of cancellation Sept. 6. 2019
Spring 2020: The Cleveland National Forest welcomes new Forest Supervisor Scott Tangenberg
2021 and beyond: SDMBA shifts focus to progressing the Laguna Mountain Trails Restoration Project forward which through the USFS planning process. Because of limitations on USFS staff and specialist time, we have been advised that focusing on one project would be better than trying to push two large, new trail projects simultaneously. When the time presents itself, we are willing to discuss future trails plans with the Palomar District.