|Marin Conservation League | 175 N. Redwood Dr., Ste. 135 | San Rafael CA 94903 | Tel 415.485.6257 | Fax 415.485.6259
California State Parks has released the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for a project to convert Bills' Trail in the Devil’s Gulch region of Samuel P. Taylor State Park to multiple use to allow mountain bikes. The report allows for the conversion.
Even as MCL supports keeping State Parks open and recognizes the legitimacy of mountain bike recreation on the many miles of appropriately designed trails and fire-roads that Marin offers, we remain fundamentally opposed to a change in use for this trail.
The FEIR and supporting documents are posted on the State Parks CEQA website (scroll down to Marin Parks-Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
Many people who have hiked Bills' Trail (which was named for two men named Bill) over the years are familiar with this serene foot path that makes a gradual 3.3-mile ascent up the wooded slopes of Mt. Barnabe in the Devil’s Gulch area of Samuel P. Taylor State Park. The trail originates along the banks of Devil’s Gulch Creek, about a half-mile upstream from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The trail terminates at the 1,120-foot elevation juncture with Barnabe Fire Road. Constructed in the late 1970’s as a hiking-only trail and since 1994 available also to equestrians, Bills' Trail is a perfect day-hike for families and older hikers with its ten easy switch-backs, bridged stream crossings, and lush shade.
In recent years, mountain bikers petitioned State Parks to use Bills' Trail as well, with the intent of making the trail consistent with State Parks’ (also recent) multiple use trail policy. The Marin District of State Parks for several years had been studying opportunities in Marin State Parks to change the use of selected narrow trails to multiple use, i.e., with modifications, open them to mountain bikers in addition to hikers and equestrians. Bills' Trail was seen as one such opportunity.
A change in use, as a conversion typically is called, generally means making physical changes to the trail, at a minimum widening it. It also involves modifying the trail to improve line-of-sight and installing various devices, such as perpendicular logs, to form “pinch points” to control bike speed. Since bike locomotion differs dramatically from that of either hikers or equestrians and can be hazardous to both, change in use means taking on the major issues of user safety as well as increased wear and tear on trails and disruption of adjacent habitats.
After conducting various surveys on Bills' Trail, the Marin District of State Parks filed a Notice of Exemption from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the project. This action amounted to State Parks’ approving the conversion in use without sufficient environmental study and adequate opportunity for public comment. MCL, supported by other conservation organizations, took issue with the District’s decision and, with the help of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, environmental attorneys, challenged the legality of the NOE as a violation of CEQA. At that time, MCL noted that the District, in planning for Bills' Trail, had failed to adequately consider its location in Devil’s Gulch and Lagunitas Creek watershed – a 101 square-mile watershed that is designated as critical habitat for two federally listed endangered species – coho salmon and steelhead. Any expansion of trail use could potentially increase sedimentation into the creek system and must be carefully evaluated as a significant impact under applicable environmental law – in this case CEQA. As a consequence of MCL’s challenge, on June 24, 2009, State Parks rescinded its approval of the project as well as the NOE. But that was only a temporary reprieve.
Shortly after rescinding the NOE and project on June 24, 2009, the Marin District staff invited MCL, its legal counsel, and representatives of other interested environmental organizations to meet in the District office to discuss environmental concerns. MCL was assured at that time that we would be kept informed of further steps with regard to the project. In view of MCL’s well-documented interest and key role in prompting the preparation of the DEIR on this project, it was surprising, then, to learn that an EIR had been prepared almost two years later.
A recirculated DEIR was issued in the fall of 2011. MCL has reviewed that document and prepared comments, see link below.
2009 Documents and Correspondence