In a race against development, volunteers work to preserve endangered trails
Last updated 12/4/2006 at Noon
Leaving the family horses in their corrals on a recent Sunday morning, Troy and Kari Smith hiked up a familiar dirt trail in the foothills of Wildomar and were soon overlooking a panoramic view stretching from Lake Elsinore to Temecula.
Clearing a path with other members of the Butterfield Multi-Use Trails committee, armed with a pruner, a global positioning system (GPS) device, a map and water bottles, the Wildomar residents are spending their spare time racing against the encroaching telltale barren patches of future development visible throughout the Elsinore Valley.
Their trail map has the county of Riverside stamp of approval but until a trail is officially cleared and activated, a trailhead could be wiped out in an afternoon of bulldozer grading.
The idea for the Butterfield Multi-Use Trails committee came to Wildomar resident Gary Andre about four years ago when he helped two young equestrians calm their horses after a car screeched past them in front of his home. Even experienced riders are cautiously prepared for the sudden honks or near-misses when cars and equestrians are forced to share the same path. The days of the carefree rides from one end of the valley to the other ended years ago. Equestrians were almost forced to head for the hills for long jaunts of worry-free riding.
“That’s why we are trying to preserve these
- ,” said Andre, a disabled former construction supervisor, as he carefully hikes up the slope of a grade with a walking stick for support, “so we have these with access to them.” Andre is also a member of the Wildomar Land Development Review committee, which advises the county of proposed development in the unincorporated community of about twenty-six thousand. He is also a frequent speaker at county planning commission hearings, speaking on behalf of one trail segment at a time.
Approximately 60 miles of trails have been approved by the county for equestrians, hikers, mountain bikers and other unmotorized travelers.
Adopt-a-Trail road signs sprang up last year along several roadsides in Wildomar at designated trail segments. The names of families, local businesses and a young Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country adorn the individual signs. Adoptees promise to maintain their segment by clearing brush and trimming overhanging tree branches to keep travelers off the road.
Today’s scouting run retraces the hoof prints left by the Smiths’ horses and the path taken by committee member Steve Lusky, a mountain biker and hiker who scouted the trail with his GPS device and also records the slope of the trails and difficulty of travel on foot. The necessity of switchbacks, places where erosion has occurred and plans to stabilize the steep climbs with railroad ties are all noted for future projects.
“That’s kinda the challenge,” says Lusky, “to keep it available long enough for us to . Are they going to shut it off or are they going to preserve it and then we can get to it?”
A year ago, the Smiths used to ride their horses in the open field that has become the housing pads and new home sites of the D.R. Horton Windstone Ranch residential development off Grand Avenue between Gruwell and Central. The builder has incorporated the new trail system into the neighborhood tract map with white rail posts and wide manufactured trails behind the new residences leading to the raw canyons and ancient oak trees a few hundred feet beyond.
The developer also donated $2,000 toward the establishment of a roadside memorial trail to honor fallen local soldiers, community volunteers and other residents. A line of cast-iron monuments will line the special trail segment near the Windstone Ranch neighborhoods.
“This is something brand new for us,” said D.R. Horton marketing manager Pam Waysack when she was presented with the idea. Nearby access to the Cleveland National Forest and Santa Rosa Plateau would be obvious selling points to potential buyers, she noted. “It’s nice to discover the inside scoop of an area that you don’t know,” she said as Andre described the hidden meadows, seasonal waterfalls and thriving wildlife accessible to residents.
But preserving the trails has led to another forgotten treasure – the preservation of the Wildomar Elementary school bell, which sat silently preserved on a stone pedestal in front of the modernized school since the original renovation in 1958.
The 120-year-old bell used to summon schoolchildren to class, and along with the Wildomar Historical Society, Andre, the trails committee and other volunteers have been donating time, labor and money to restore the bell to its former use.
At a time when Wildomar is poised on the verge of a cityhood vote possibly next June, the idea to revive the bell was to promote community spirit and put a spotlight on the history of community volunteers like members of the Wildomar Home Committee, who preserved the bell in the first place. A new homemade bell tower and cupola has been built and the bell restored. Andre is in the finishing stages of collecting historical memorabilia for two time capsules decorated by local children to be stored in the bell tower until 2056.
“This is the history of our community,” says Andre. “We’ve talked to people who have lived here for years. When we find out this stuff, we know what’s going on in our community and can protect these things for the future.”
The Wildomar Elementary School Bell Rededication Ceremony will be held Saturday, December 9, at 2 p.m. at the school, located at the corner of Palomar and Central Streets. Call Andre at (951) 609-3737 for more information on the Butterfield Multi-Use Trails committee. For more community information, visit http://www.wildomarwin.org.