A couple of weekends ago I did a combination of hiking and biking in the Descanso and Cuyamaca area doing a bit more of my ongoing project to assess all of the California Riding and Hiking Trail segments in the county. I have updated the interactive map on my page to reflect some of the details.
(Disclaimer: I’m going to ramble in this post and make some references you may have to follow along with on my site and other linked documents. This post is just as much notes for my own use later as it is something to share.)
A good portion of the CRHT has been lost to road construction over the years in the Descanso area. The trail still exists leaving Descanso to the north and all the way up through Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Unfortunately a large majority of it is off limits to bikes due to a state wilderness designation in 1982.
The State Wilderness designation inside the boundary of the State Park is an unnecessary designation as all of the preservation goals could have been achieved using other existing State Park systems administrative tools. It is my opinion that for many decades now there has been a cadre of politicians out there that view the number of acres of wilderness they gain every year as a feather in their hat. So while the designation of this existing state park land in 1982 increased those wilderness acreage numbers, it did not protect any additional land. It was already protected from development. What did it do? Well it banned cyclist access to an existing multi-use trail that was established in the 1940s.
At the north end of Descanso Trail Road, the CRHT is once again a trail. It is a single track and mostly climbs for about 2 miles to Cuyamaca State Park and the southern boundary of one of its segments of wilderness. There is no other legal access for cyclists beyond that point. This section south of the state park is a bit over grown in spots and the tread could use some TLC n spots. The CRHT continues north as singletrack and is better maintained by the state park. After maybe 1.5 miles the CRHT comes out onto South Boundary fireroad. South Boundary fireroad is not in designated wilderness. The CRHT follows South Boundary fireroad north to the junction of Arroyo Seco Fireroad which is cherry stemmed out of the wilderness. At the end of the Arroyo Seco Fireroad the CRHT continues northward as the Fox trail which is singletrack.
The the Fox trail ascends steeply in spots to the junction of the West Mesa trail and finally the Fir trail which ends at the Fern Flat fireroad and the northern boundary of the West Mesa wilderness. This is a superb section of the backcountry in the park with incredible views both to the west and east.
When the Fir trail (aka CRHT) reaches Fern Flat fireroad the CRHT turns north as the fireroad until it veers off to the east as the Azalea Glen trail. This trail is not in the wilderness but it still off limits to bike. The trail is often quite steep and would be pretty technical in many spots in the upper half. Near the bottom of the eastern flank of Cuyamaca peak the CRHT (single track at this point) splits off to the north from the Azalea Glen trail and is once again open to bikes (and named CRHT). After some meandering it then crosses HWY79 and proceeds around the west and north flanks of Stonewall Peak.
However when it get to the junction of the Los Caballos trail it becomes off-limits to bikes. Just a few years ago this section of the CRHT was open to bikes northward all the way to the Soapstone Grade fireroad. Where the CRHT joins Soapstone Grade Road it once again become open to bikes. This was the northern apex of assessment on these latest outings.
While I don’t know the whole story, I looked up the latest approved general plan for the state park and have some theories that I hope to get some clarifications on with some other people. The 2015 approved park general plan called for the expansion of several cultural and natural preserves inside the boundary of the park. It looks like the expansion of those preserves brought with it the loss of cyclist access to the CRHT in those expanded areas.
Also in the general plan were some wilderness boundary adjustment that should have opened up the Blue Ribbon trail to cyclist in the southern area of the park, but as of last weekend, the no bikes and wilderness signs are still up. It would have been really nice if the CRHT would have been cherry stemmed out of the Wilderness to restore cyclist access to this historic route that predates even the Pacific Crest Trail. This really falls into the category of bitching at this point since I did not participate in the public comment period when the revised general plan was being worked.
While I have not done my due diligence at this point to find out the whys, it looks quite a bit like the park is a bit slow to implement the portions of the approved plan that would benefit cyclists. One thing is for certain the classic Cuyamaca “Grand Loop” will never seem as grand after seeing what the loop could be if cyclists were allowed to ride the CRHT as it was intended.