Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Stewardship: Timeless Trails

Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Stewardship: Timeless Trails

VOLER is proud to partner with Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Stewardship because of the work they do to bring the outdoor community together, on and off the trails. Their advocacy for more recreation opportunities benefits all of us–from bikers to hikers to horseback riders–and just like us, they’re supporting their local economies by providing solid jobs and security for hard-working folks who love to play hard too. Dive a little deeper into the great things happening just up the coast from us, courtesy of our friends at SCMTS.

Behind a locked gate and barbed wire fence, coastal prairie rises from the Pacific Coast, north of Santa Cruz, California. The grassy ridges undulate from the strawberry fields next to Highway 1 toward the redwood forests that reach all the way to the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, 3,000 feet above. The landscape is part of the newly established Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, a huge swath of 6,000 acres.

It’s long been inaccessible to all but a few private landowners. Old-timers from SC remember back in the 80s, trying to ride down a fire road that linked the coast to the crest, only to be turned around at the bottom by a scowl and a shotgun. It’s been largely un-trafficked for decades, but all of that is about to change thanks to the work of the Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Stewardship and the local mountain bike community that has just broken ground on 19 miles of new trails in the zone.

SCMTS has long been a force for good for outdoor enthusiasts in Central California. A decade ago, the organization was known as Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and was an all-volunteer outfit. They were instrumental in organizing the Santa Cruz Mountain Bike Festival to raise funds for local projects. They also hosted Enduro MTB races while advocating for more MTB-specific trails. Their dedication led to the construction of the Demo Flow Trail and the Emma McCrary trail that links the City of Santa Cruz with Pogonip Open Space Preserve and the UCSC campus in the mountains. They’ve built pump tracks from the Westside of Santa Cruz to Watsonville, making the entire county a more welcoming place for off-road recreation.

Now 20 employees strong in 2022, their momentum has grown each year as the scope of their work expanded. They recently changed their name to Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Stewardship, as many of their projects opened or improved recreational opportunities for bikers, equestrians, and hikers across Central California. They’ve become involved in fire restoration and rehabilitation of trails destroyed in the CZU complex fire in 2020 and are actively building trails and clearing brush to help prevent similar catastrophic events in the future. They’ve long worked to make their backyard a better place for all of us to play for years to come.

And hikers, bikers, and equestrians love the recreational opportunities that abound in the Santa Cruz backyard. Trail counters on the U-Con Trail that links Highway 9 to the UCSC campus clocked over 142,000 trips in 2021. Since the Westside pump track revitalization project finished in August 2021, there have been 50,000 passes through the gate in a town with 65,000 people.

Demand for the existing trails has skyrocketed. Users enjoy many legacy trails never designed for, let alone intended for, that kind of MTB volume. But with the expansion of new projects, like Cotoni-Coast Dairies and the overarching Timeless Trails initiative, the organization is creating a sustainable future for outdoor recreation.

Besides enhancing the capacity for the number of riders across the county’s trail networks, the granular details of each new trail at the CCD site are for the long haul. Backslope (where the trail meets the sidehill), outslope (where the trail falls away on the downhill side), and grade reversals are all engineered and monitored throughout construction, headed up by the full-time trail crew SCMTS now employs. Trails and berms are armored with a foundation made from the Santa Cruz mudstone that was chipped and crushed from outcroppings along the trail. When the singletrack crosses a natural gully, a swale is constructed to allow for better drainage without altering water flow or encouraging erosion.      

The entire 19 miles of new trail that will roll out in several phases is part of the Timeless Trails initiative, a plan that lays out a two-year timeline and five million dollar funding goals for the network. The trails that will open up during the first phase will be swoopy, purpose-built MTB trails that are adaptive bicycle-friendly, bringing the new riding experience to even more people. When completed, the Timeless Trails campaign will fund trails necessary to connect the Cotoni Coast Dairies network to the proposed 38-miles of trail at San Vicente Redwoods to the North and to the Coastal Rail Trail, which will link the Cotoni-Coast Dairies to Davenport and the City of Santa Cruz.

But these first miles of MTB trails within the National Monument to open by the end of the year will be the most significant. The completion will unlock this gem of recreational opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts. No more gates. No more firearm dissuasion. There will be trails designed to spread out the masses, to stand the test of time, year after year, solidifying Santa Cruz County as one of the greatest riding destinations for locals and visitors alike, whatever they ride.

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