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EL CAJON, Calif. — Hundreds of mountain bikers packed a church auditorium in El Cajon Monday night to discuss opening new legal bike trails in the wake of aggressive actions by the Marines to shut down popular trails that cross onto their base.

Most of those attending the San Diego Mountain Biking Association meeting at Foothill Church were concerned about a series of bicycle seizures by Marine patrols on the Stowe Trail, which runs from Santee Lakes to the Sycamore Canyon-Goodan Ranch Open Space near Poway. Much of the historic trail skirts the far eastern edge of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

On Saturday, Jan. 9, Marine patrols stopped about 50 mountain bikers, wrote them citations and confiscated their bikes as evidence. They also seized three motorcycles from riders who rode onto the base. Since that time, other riders have had their bikes confiscated in the same area and on parts of the Marine base that border Mission Trails Regional Park, according to SDMBA members.

Two U.S. Marine representatives were on hand at the standing-room-only meeting, along with city and county officials. The MCAS Miramar representatives said Marines have been issuing tickets since 2012 to cyclists, hikers and other trespassers on their air base, but it was not keeping people off federal property. The base commander decided to step up enforcement after mountain bikers were seen on a ridge above the base firing range last year, forcing the Marines to shut down training until the area could be cleared. That has happened several times in the last few months, costing taxpayers about $10,000 each time, the Marines said. But the Department of Defense’s main concern is the safety of the public and their personnel.

SDMBA officers told the crowd that they are working closely with county officials and private landowners to create a legal trail connecting Mission Trails Regional Park with the Sycamore Canyon-Goodan Ranch, but that process will take time. They said that the most positive thing local mountain bikers can do in the meantime  is to stay off of illegal trails and work with SDMBA to create legal alternatives throughout San Diego County.

County Supervisor Dianne Jacob received a loud and prolonged ovation after outlining her decades-long effort to purchase the Stowe Trail right-of-way from the Marines, only to have a tentative agreement collapse after the base commander at Miramar changed in 2008. She said she remained optimistic that the historic trail will eventually become public land, but she also supported SDMBA’s effort to develop an alternate route.

Meanwhile, the Marine representatives made it clear that mountain bikers would not get their confiscated bikes back until they settle their citations in federal court. Most of the bikers said they had not yet received court dates yet.