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Conejo Valley Trail Users Unite to Fight Development


For once, the hikers were glad to see mountain bicyclists racing through the remaining wilderness trails in the Conejo Valley Saturday morning. Even the horseback riders welcomed the bicyclists.

Setting aside differences that have led to banning mountain bicycles from most trails in state and national parks in California, representatives of all three groups amicably shared the hilly trails that surround Thousand Oaks. Along the trails that crisscross the area, they passed a golf course, a freeway overpass, several housing developments and construction sites.

Then, tired but happy, they gathered for a picnic under the oak trees near the Arts Council Center on Greenmeadow Drive.

The event, called Open Trails Appreciation Day and sponsored by the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency, ostensibly was planned to make residents aware of the valley's natural resources and recreational opportunities.

But more than one trail user said the unlikely meeting of about 100 horseback riders, 60 hikers and 30 bicyclists was a show of force to put developers and their political supporters on notice: If they want to replace trails with shopping malls, they had better be ready for a fight.

"Developers are building so fast," said hiker Jeff Alexander, pointing to rows of new houses built within 100 yards of the trail. "There are houses right up against our open space. The closer they get, the more critical it becomes that we protect and maintain our trails."

Michael Smith, owner of a computer supply firm in Thousand Oaks, rode his big brown horse into the picnic area, wild buckwheat clinging to his jeans. Smith said he moved from Reseda in 1977 and from Chatsworth in 1980 because development had obliterated his horse trails. "It's too late for the San Fernando Valley," he lamented, "but we still have a chance here."

Hiker Dan Bellarue arrived at the picnic area carrying his 18-month-old son Christopher in a baby chair on his back, a water bottle labeled "Daddy" hanging from his belt. "We all have a common bond," he said, pointing to bicyclists and horseback riders helping themselves to apple juice. "Our strength is in numbers, and together we can make a lot of noise."

Still fresh after a 13-mile bike ride, Jim Hasenamer, a member of the Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn., joined the conversation.

"The need to stop development, buy more parkland and preserve what we have brings us a long way toward building a coalition," he said, and Bellarue nodded approvingly. Conejo Valley is one of the few areas in Southern California where mountain bicyclists are not restricted to fire roads. The Santa Monica Mountains and the Angeles National Forest closed most of their trails to bicyclists after hikers complained that they were being run over, horseback riders said that speeding bikes scared their horses and environmentalists claimed that the bikes scarred the parkland, Hasenamer said.

Open Trails Appreciation Day turned out to be a big public-relations success for the off-road bicyclists and mountain biking in general--no one complained and no one got run over. Bicyclists politely dismounted and waited for horses to pass. They slowed to the pace of the hikers they came across, greeting each one.

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