At first glance it would appear that the California Department of Fish & Game would like people to stop using all the trails in the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Preserve just south of the Lake Calavera Trails system.
In the past month fences have gone up all over the once beautiful hiking terrain making it nearly impossible to get anywhere without tromping through the bushes. Oddly, few of the fences connect to anything nor block any areas off. Most (like this one) simply stretch across a trail and extend a few yards into the foliage on either side making a dangerous situation for mountain bikers who are used to riding these trails unchecked.
The fences are part of a plan by California Fish & Game to protect the coastal sage scrub, which is prime habitat for the threatened California Gnatcatcher and to generally protect the area from getting destroyed. The project is being financed by a grant from the San Diego Association of Governments, according to California Fish & Game Biologist Warren Wong.
Wong says there is a logic to the way the fences have been scattered through the preserve. “We’ve tried to situate them in a way that they tie in with the vegetation,” Wong said. “If we wanted to close an area we would have to fence off the entire area with very sturdy poles. That’s not financially possible. The costs would be astronomical.”
The reason there is a problem with the trails seems to be more an issue of communication. The webpage dedicated to the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Preserve is little help. It features nothing more than a map that shows where the preserve is located, a phone number, and some icons suggesting hiking and birdwatching are allowed. We’ve never seen any signs or announcements on site explaining who is allowed to use the trails and/or which trails are officially open. But, apparently, that’s not because they haven’t been posted. “Any signs that we put up in that the area pretty quickly get ripped down,” Wong said.
The good news is that the fences may not have to be permanent. “As long as they do their job, then we can take them down,” he says.
As for the mountain biking, it’s never been allowed in the area anyway. But Wong says he would like to work with mountain bikers. “I’d really like to meet mountain bikers and see if they have ideas about trails,” he says. “We can look. I have rules that I am bound by, but there may be places in this area that could be considered an access road.”
Until then, just know that if you’re riding the trails south and east of the water tank, be careful. There are fences everywhere.