The historic Stowe Trail through has become one of the most popular mountain bike rides in San Diego County. It is unfortunate that the Marines felt the need to close access across this historic route.
There are at least two ways to resolve this issue, both of which include the resolution of conservation. With conservation of the Fanita Ranch, a segment of the Stowe Trail could be routed across Fanita Ranch rather than on its current route over Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
However, a much superior resolution would be to include the Marines, the County, and the cities of Santee, San Diego and other agencies in a partnership that would resolve all land use issues throughout Sycamore Canyon and keep the same basic route for the Stowe Trail throughout Sycamore Canyon that currently exists.
The current route includes public and private parcels within San Diego and Santee, the County of San Diego, and MCAS Miramar. A balanced partnership between all stakeholders that recognizes the important defense mission, the value of natural resources and recreational value of the trail would greatly benefit the public.
For example, the Marines have legitimate readiness and environmental management interests that federal law requires them to execute on the base. Fortunately, the Department of Defense was empowered with a Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI) for managing the exact type of land-use issues that now surround and conflict with the mission of the base. The ongoing loss of natural resources to development off the base and the growing number of endangered species region-wide has placed increasing management burdens upon the Marines to balance military training activities with protection of endangered species under federal laws. With continued destruction of endangered species habitat off of the base – with the grading of each adjacent to the base, the pressures on the Marines to severely restrict or eliminate readiness training activities that adversely impact endangered species grows.
So how can the REPI “buffer program” resolve the issues? First, (to her credit) has been working on resolving the recreational issue with the military for approximately a decade and has built the foundation for a wider partnership.
Directly adjacent to the base within the city of Santee is the , which has a small segment of the trail, but more importantly contains 2,600-acres of endangered species habitat that can reduce the growing burdens of endangered species management and other urban pressures upon the base. While , the military showed interest in a partnership that would include REPI acquisition funds for Fanita Ranch conservation.
If a partnership acquisition of Fanita Ranch (Fanita is the “missing link”) connected to Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve, regional park managers could be utilized to maintain appropriate recreational use on lands where they currently have no authority. The Marines could then be relieved of the unacceptable encroachment burdens along their eastern boundary and get back to training. Furthermore, a partnership acquisition of Fanita Ranch could result in a release of conservation funds from other public sources that would allow the County to execute a previously negotiated acquisition of military lands currently traversed by the historic Stowe Trail.
While various segments of this partnership that would resolve all issues have come together over the last decade, there has always been one consistent impediment – that is the role played by . If the City of Santee would lead, join or at least the disbursement of conservation funds to a willing seller of Fanita Ranch, than most of the land use issues of Sycamore Canyon could be resolved for the public’s benefit.
Considering that the new economic reality of sprawl development demonstrates that there are only costs and no benefits to the city if Fanita is graded – maybe citizens can persuade the to revisit the potential for a greater resolution of this costly stalemate.
The voice of an outspoken public is the cement needed to solidify a mutually beneficial partnership.
Van Collinsworth is Resource Analyst/Executive Director for Preserve Wild Santee.