The Stokes Ridge trail used to be a favorite of the equestrians in Linda Palmer's neighborhood in the Malibu mountains. But about 10 years ago a vacant property that included about 500 feet of the trail was sold to someone who barred trespassers.
A cattle guard appeared on the new owner's section of the trail. "You dig a pit and lay pipes across," Palmer said. "The pipes are close enough together to drive a car there, but if a horse goes over it will slip and break a leg."
The barrier effectively closed off a four-mile loop around the countryside. "Now with the detours, you have to go seven miles," she said.
Under the new land-use plan, that trail can remain closed for now. But if the owner applies for a building permit, he will be required to reserve his portion of the trail for public access.
The Stokes Ridge trail is part of a 200-mile network of existing paths in the Santa Monica Mountains that Los Angeles County is trying to keep open for hikers and riders. About 150 miles are in the coastal zone.
Wherever development occurs along the trail network, paths will be officially opened to the public.
Palmer, president of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, is pleased. "We had to look at prevention," she said. "What is characteristic of the newcomers is that people will want to fence or close off their land." So far, the county has opened about six miles of once-private trail, said James Park, a planner with the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
A 1985 census by Equestrian Trails, a riders group, found about 131,000 horses in Los Angeles County, the highest equine population in California. The rugged Santa Monicas are a popular place to ride.
The county plans to build a $1-million equestrian center, with parking for horse trailers and two training arenas, in the hills above Zuma Beach. The National Park Service is considering a proposal for a camp in Decker Canyon with accommodations for people with disabilities, which would include a special ramp for mounting horses.
The trail network is designed to connect those facilities and link state and national parkland in the Santa Monicas. Palmer's group has agreed to provide volunteers to maintain county trails.
Not everyone is happy with the program. Some homeowners have raised concerns about privacy and crime, while others are upset over giving up property without being paid for it. But the trails issue did not develop into a major controversy during the long hearings over the land-use plan.
Now, Palmer says, routing the trails away from buildings will be important. No specific rules on trail placement were included in the land-use plan.
"We want to preserve a mountain experience," Palmer said. "The quality of that access will depend a lot on responsible attitudes of developers . . . to provide a quality experience through that property."