From NEIL DAVIS
Hiking to “The U” on the western hills of Ukiah has been a rite of passage for generations. I’ve heard teachers brought entire classes up the steep “trails” (in actuality, they are firebreaks) and I dragged my mountain bike up there shortly after moving here. Back in the day, no one seemed to mind if we went up there. That is no longer true. “The U” is on private property, and the owners do not want us trespassing.
Recently I’ve received numerous emails asking, “How do I get to ‘the U’? I can’t find the trail”. I’m not always so fast on the uptake, so it took me a little while to realize why so many people were asking. I believe it is because we at the Ukiah Valley Trail Group (UVTG) recently completed the new “City View” trail off of Low Gap Park and at about the same time, the fire break that ascends to the venerable “U” was re-graded making it more visible from the valley floor. Apparently people are mistaking the firebreak for the new City View Trail. So to be clear, let it be known first, the big cut on the hill that leads to “The U” is not City View trail; second, there is no trail to “The U”, and third, you cannot legally go to “The U” without prior permission from the land owner.
I apologize if I sound a little strident, but as trail advocates and users, it is very important that we respect private property rights. We have some great public trails that are close to our homes here in the Ukiah valley, we just don’t have enough of them. We have some places where we can potentially build new trails on public property, and the UVTG is working to do just that.
Having great trails close to home makes a place a great place to live. This is confirmed by real estate studies that show home buyers want to live where they can quickly and easily get outdoors. People will pay more to live where they have trail access. People will relocate businesses where their employees will be happy, and people exercise more and become healthier when they have easy access to get outdoors. Having great trails close to home will help our local economy, improve our health, and make this an even better place to live.
Trespassing will not help us achieve these goals. Private property owners have legitimate concerns about how public access near (or on) their property might affect them. They have legitimate concerns about liability, vandalism, noise, and fire risk. We at the UVTG share these concerns, but our research suggests the problems are rare and can be mitigated with good trail design and management. As a community, we need to respect and respond to the legitimacy of their concerns and always respect their private property rights.
Ultimately, for us to build an extensive system of trails around our valley, with easy access from multiple entry points, we will need the cooperation of at least a few private property owners. So now is a good time to start being on our best behavior.
The good news is the hike to “The U” has always been a lousy hike. It is really steep, really dusty, and really hot. It’s a lung and thigh buster on the way up, and a knee buster and ankle twister on the way down. Although many of us brag about having done it, there are few who have done it more than once or twice – because it’s not fun. So in a way, losing access to the U is not a big loss. We simply need to find a new “rite of passage” hike for us locals. Have you been to the waterfall at the top of Valley View Trail?
Neil Davis is the President of the Ukiah Valley Trail Group. For more information on local trails or to join the UVTG in their efforts to ensure we have Great Trails, Close to Home, go to www,mendotrails.org