When Tony and I were in the market to buy a house, we were pretty set on moving to the small community of Fallbrook, located in North County San Diego. We loved the small town feel, but mostly wanted to be close to the Santa Margarita River Watershed as we loved hiking the trails there. So when we found a home within walking distance of the trail, we bought it. I’ve felt so lucky to have access to such a beautiful outdoor space so close to our house. We are not the only ones who love this trail too. Catering to over 30,000 visitors a year, the Santa Margarita River Trail was rated one of the best trails in San Diego in 1997 by Sunset Magazine and again in 2014. This trail is loved and maintained by the community and used by many hikers, bikers, and equestrians.
Currently the Santa Margarita River Preserve is owned by Fallbrook Public Utilities District (FPUD) and has allowed Fallbrook Trails Council (nonprofit) to create and maintain the trail system for the last 25 years with their own volunteers and funds. Just under two years ago, FPUD decided to sell the property and the organization, Western Rivers, would broker the deal. Fallbrook Trails Council insisted that FPUD include language in the deed to ensure that whoever purchases the land will keep the watershed open to the public forever. Unfortunately placing such language in the deed would “lower the value of the land” and was not wanted by Western Rivers. Fallbrook Trails Council started a petition, dug in their heels, and thus began some intense negotiations, scrutiny, and many hours of work. After a couple years of negotiating and public hearings, it looks like Fallbrook Trails Council and those that use the trail may have a small break.
With the deal, Western Rivers needed multiple parties to come up with the nearly $10 million dollars to purchase the land. One of the interested parties willing to put up some money for the purchase was the U.S. Department of Fish and Game. However the Department of Fish and Game wanted to place some conservation requirements on the valley that really didn’t make sense for the river into the management plan for the property that would give them the right to close river crossings and sections of trails as they saw fit. Of course Fallbrook Trails Council was against this and luckily FPUD agreed and voted on June 26th, 2017 to not renew the request for a 90 day extension from Western Rivers for the deal. The parties involved just couldn’t compromise a deal that worked for the community and those that use the trails.
According to The Fallbrook Trails Council, “This decision will allow the board to seek other funds to be able to move forward with the project and insure that we the community remain the caretakers of our wonderful trails, at least for the time being. Fallbrook Trails Council has been working closely with Wildlands Conservancy and feels that they are a good organization to work with us as guardians of our river. This is a good thing.”
Unfortunately, even with this latest vote, the public access to the watershed may still be in jeopardy and Fallbrook Trails Council needs all of our help. If the interested parties do end up co-operating, a deal could still be reached. Please like the Fallbrook Trail Council’s Facebook page and stay up to date on what is happening. Attend future hearings if possible. Please sign and share the petition below with all of your hiking, biking, and equestrian friends. Even if you do not hike this area, take part in saving something that means so much to the community and those who visit.
Please sign the petition here: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/perserving-the-santa-margarita-river-parkway