Box Springs Mountain Reserve A Vision Forming

Vision Unfolds For Box Springs

Mountain Reserve’s Future

By SUZANNE HURT / STAFF WRITER

image0-RIVERSIDE: Vision unfolding for Box Springs Mountain reserve's future

BOX SPRINGS MOUNTAIN RESERVE COMPREHENSIVE TRAILS MASTER PLAN

Agency: Riverside County Regional Park & Open-Space District

Consultant: Prepared by San Diego landscape architecture firm KTU+A

Published: November 2015

Information: rivcoparks.org; plan link.

Riverside County’s new master trails plan for Box Springs Mountain Reserve unveils a vision for a network of nearly 70 miles of sustainable paths with scenic views, technical challenges for hikers and mountain bikers and new routes to the mountain’s “Big C,” a UC Riverside homecoming ritual cancelled last fall over safety concerns.

The plan is part of an effort to help maintain locals’ access to the reserve and its wild trails after Metrolink trains began running on the Perris Valley Line on Monday, June 6.

The Riverside County Transportation Commission in late May put up a six-foot-tall fence for 2,000 feet along the railway between Big Springs Road and Mount Vernon Avenue to stop University neighborhood residents and UCR students from crossing the tracks at Islander Park to hike the popular Big C Trail and other parts of the reserve.

There are no crossing gates, warning lights or signs at the tracks there.

RELATED: Moreno Valley urging residents to take a hike

Pedestrian crossings there, which are illegal, drew mounting safety concerns as the transportation commission’s upgrades to the 24-mile Perris-to-Riverside railroad track extension were completed in May. After decades of scant use by slow-moving freight trains, the railway will now serve up to 240 Metrolink trains a month.

Yet before any trail upgrades can get underway, stakeholders must determine whether to build a tunnel or bridge across the upgraded tracks to a new or existing Big C Trail up Box Springs Mountain, buy land and finance construction.

“At this point, everybody is kind of on hold as we try to resolve what gets built and what we’re applying for,” said Jeff Greene, chief of staff for Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, whose office has been involved in work on the issues.

‘A FABULOUS RESOURCE’

Protecting access to the 3,400-acre reserve – an important natural corridor that’s home to hidden springs, abundant wildlife and one of the region’s most popular hiking areas – was one reason the local land preservation group, Friends of Riverside’s Hills, sued to stop the $248 million commuter rail line extension.

The master plan’s creation was overseen by the Riverside County Regional Park & Open-Space District, which manages the reserve, and funded with $189,000 from a court-approved settlement to Friends of Riverside’s Hills.

The $3 million settlement directed the transportation commission, which owns the tracks, to reduce train noise and grant residents access to the reserve, an open space also used by bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, burros and burrowing owls.

In addition, the settlement provided funds to buy land, build trails and help residents reduce train noise on their properties, said Gurumantra Khalsa, president of Friends of Riverside’s Hills and a University neighborhood resident.

The reserve currently holds seven established trails totalling 17.25 miles: Two Trees, Skyline Loops 1 and 2, Edison, Sugarloaf, the M above Moreno Valley and the favorite yet unofficial Big C Trail, a roughly mile-long route with deeply rutted sections on steep, eroding slopes.

The master plan calls for 68.5 miles of interconnected trails that would include two loops circling the base and mountaintops, three short vista trails and a paved, multi-use path along the Perris Valley Line between Moreno Valley and UCR that may be used by bicycle commuters and students.

The plan also proposes new staging areas and trailheads that could include toilets, corrals, water, picnic tables, benches, shade trees, hitching posts, bike racks or parking. Trailheads would have fewer amenities.

Existing trails would be rerouted to make them more sustainable and environmentally friendly and to create more challenging routes through boulders and rock slabs for hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers.

Some informal trails could be added to the system, which would contain more neighborhood access points to increase connectivity for the most residents from all the surrounding communities, Khalsa said.

“Once it’s completed and built, it’ll be a fabulous resource,” he added.

Plan consultants estimated trail work could cost up to $74,000 per mile, although much could cost far less and some would cost more. The plan doesn’t estimate total cost, said Riverside County Regional Park & Open-Space District Resources Bureau Chief Keith Herron.

‘A SAFE SOLUTION’

Project partners including the county, preservation group, city, UCR and RCTC must agree on the next steps to tackle, including whether a tunnel or bridge can be built across the tracks at Islander Park, then create a construction plan before federal and state grants are sought. No meetings are set, he said.

Islander Park may get a staging area to provide access to the lower circumference trail, the multi-use path and two new C Trails: a 3.75-mile main trail with long, gentle switchbacks across the face of the mountain and a 2.5-mile technical C Trail. The heavily damaged existing Big C Trail would be abandoned.

Without such a crossing, C Trail access would be at Blaine Street, a car ride away from the UCR campus and much of the neighborhood. Students are unlikely to go that far, and campus officials are considering how much to pitch in for a tunnel or bridge, UCR Director of Local Government and Community Relations Jeff Kraus said.

“We think there needs to be a solution that’s closer to campus than Blaine. A safe solution,” he said.

RCTC posted “No Trespassing” signs and mounted a rail safety educational campaign before weekend test trains began running Oct. 31. The agency supports the plan and agreed in the settlement to allow a crossing that complies with state and federal laws for rail right-of-way, said commission Deputy Executive Director John Standiford.

Friends of Riverside’s Hills paid for the plan to support county grant applications and expects to provide matching funds, but can’t finance the entire project, Khalsa said.

The group is working on cost estimates for low-cost track crossings after the county and RCTC estimated a tunnel or bridge could cost $2 million. The group hired retired State Parks Director Pete Dangermond to coordinate certain issues including land acquisition, Friends of Riverside’s Hills board member Kevin Dawson said.

The fence is temporarily blocking access to the reserve from a large chunk of the University neighborhood, Khalsa said.

“We’ve got more trains, we’ve got more traffic, we have less access,” said Khalsa, adding the group is trying to get access restored as quickly as possible.

After nearly 60 years of UCR homecoming hikes on the existing Big C Trail, the event was cancelled for the 2015 homecoming in November after someone from RCTC called the university’s alumni foundation and asked them not to hold the hike, said Kraus, who doesn’t know if the hike will be held this year.

He couldn’t confirm reports that someone from RCTC told foundation workers Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who police Metrolink, would cite hikers for trespassing on homecoming.

Standiford said that was possible.

“We might have,” he said. “It’s entirely out of safety. There are trailheads in the area where that trail can be accessed without having to cross the tracks there.”

Contact the writer: 951-368-9444 or shurt@pe.com

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