Big Bear Non-Motorized Recreational Trail Network Plan

Big Bear is a Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Area

This means that a lot of people and their houses meet up with undeveloped forest. “The WUI is thus a focal area for human-environmental conflicts, such as the destruction of homes by wildfire, habitat fragmentation, introduction of exotic species, and biodiversity decline.”

When you have a Wildland Urban Interface, people naturally travel into the forest; this is the very reason most of us visit the mountains. And when there aren’t enough US Forest Service “System” trails, people create their own.

These days there is rising scrutiny on user-created trails and unsanctioned trail “maintenance” here in the San Bernardino National Forest, managed by the US Forest Service. Good news is that we have friends in the local USFS that see the need for constructive communty collaboration and have encouraged us to look at a long term solution.

We need a long term plan for a well designed, constructed and maintained comprehensive trail network that allows non-motorized recreational users to visit the many diverse natural areas surrounding Big Bear. The network will utilize existing system trails, essential non-system trails, and necessary new connecting trails to provide access to the forest from both established trail heads as well as residential areas of the Wildland Urban Interface that is the Big Bear Valley.

People need direct access to the forest from their neighborhoods. Popular areas need enough trails so that people don’t create their own trails.

Trail-ClosedWait! We already have more trails than we can maintain / We don’t need any more trails / More trails will cause more damage to the environment.

Most of the trails that we can use in this new trail network are already on the ground and already being used by people. They just aren’t on official maps. These user-created trails are known by the USFS as non-system routes, and it’s estimated that we have 4 times as many of these as official system trails. But, many of these user-created trails were not built in a sustainable fashion or with a long term plan in mind (limited connectivity to other areas). And, since it is illegal to maintain these trails, recreational needs are not met (poor trails) and environmental hazards are present (high erosion, threats to sensitive species).

If we start talking about them, can’t the USFS just destroy these Non-System Trails?

Yes, but the laws state that they must go through a public regulatory process to decommission existing trails (there are exceptions, but it involves cases of extreme hydrologic damage). More importantly, these trails are in place because of the needs of the user base; the residents and visitors of Big Bear. If the USFS takes away these trails without understanding the user needs it is likely the trails will reemerge over time. The USFS is supportive of this project because it is in the best, long term interests of both the environment and the users.

Mission Statement and Goals

The Big Bear Non-Motorized Recreational Trail Network Plan is a long term, comprehensive and interconnected plan that utilizes existing system trails, essential non-system trails, and necessary new connecting trails to provide access to the San Bernardino National Forest from both established trail heads as well as residential areas of the Big Bear Valley.

The goals of this plan are to provide:

  1. Access to the USFS trail system from established high use areas such as neighborhoods, campgrounds, and popular trailhead locations. Integration with the Big Bear Valley Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Equestrian Master Plan will be encouraged.
  2. A system that allows interconnectivity between the different neighborhoods and trailheads in the Big Bear Valley, along with an option to connect to other mountain communities such as Angelus Oaks, Green Valley Lake, Running Springs, and Lake Arrowhead.
  3.  Alternatives to USFS roads that will provide a safer recreational experience and reduce conflict between motorized and non-motorized users.
  4. Trails and Loops of varying length to support different user groups and skill levels as well as minimize conflict. Consider strategies such as one-way travel and specific days designated for user groups.
  5. Safe access to the Pacific Crest Trail so that it can be utilized by hikers, equestrians, and long distance through hikers.
  6. Reasonable alternative paths so that mountain bikers are encouraged to stay off of the Pacific Crest Trail.
  7. A more focused impact to USFS lands that minimizes disturbance to the watershed, heritage locations, and sensitive plant and animal habitats.
  8. Opportunities to decommission existing non-system roads and trails with minimal threat of being reestablished by the public.
  9. Trails that are built and realigned to require minimal maintenance and provide long term sustainability.
  10. A framework that acknowledges climate change (which causes milder winters and more year round use of trails), more visitor usage, and meets anticipated long term demands for non-motorized recreational usage in the Big Bear Valley. This framework will also serve as the basis to requisition funding to implement objectives.

Maps and Documents

Erosion and Trails

Understanding how the watershed, erosion, and user-created trails fit together is an essential part of this proposed trail network plan.

Please take the time to read this post about the topic: Can Erosion and Trails Get Along?

” How do you meet the needs of a trail user and at the same time reduce the impact of erosion on the environment? This is the problem that was addressed when I met in Big Bear, California with Forest Service Ranger Marc Stamer, Forest Service Hydrologist Rob Taylor, Bear Valley Trails Foundation member Driz Cook, San Diego State University Civil Engineering Professor Alicia Kinoshita and Ian Crano (MS Thesis 2016). These local officials, outdoor enthusiasts, and researchers are trying to come up with a plan to improve the water quality of the Big Bear Lake watershed by addressing the trail erosion and soil depositional impacts of a large and unorganized user-created trail system. If done right, this plan will offer a more complete outdoor recreation and education opportunity to the public without detrimental effects to the local ecosystem.

Can Erosion and Trails Get Along?

GIS and Field Assessments

Since early 2015, the Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation (BBVTF) has been working with Ian Crano (San Diego State University MS Thesis 2016), and his advisor Alicia Kinoshita, an Assistant Professor at San Diego State University in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering to develop a Recreational Trail Assessment using computer based modeling (Crano Thesis available here). To date, there have been two papers released that directly address the assessment of trails in the Big Bear area.

Predicting Ecosystem Impacts From Recreational Trails In The San Bernardino National Forest

Crano’s thesis is “Based on a network of existing trails located within the San Bernardino National Forest near Big Bear Lake, California, this research is provided as a case study to develop a tool to assesses the impacts of recreational trails to surrounding ecology and geomorphology. The results of this study minimize the need for field-based surveys and data that can often be impractical, time intensive, expensive, and inconsistent due to variability in personnel experience, objective analysis, and training. A simple Geographic Information System (GIS) based spatial analysis is developed to predict high impact trail segments without field-based information. “

Developing a GIS-based Trail Risk and Ecosystem Evaluation (TREE) Method in the San Bernardino National Forest

Crano’s Thesis:

  • TREE minimizes the need for field based surveys and data that can often be impractical, time intensive, expensive, and inconsistent due to variability in personnel experience, objective analysis, and training to improve the efficiency and accuracy of managing and implementing trail systems.
  • TREE can be widely applied to assess ecosystem impacts of existing and proposed trail systems not only in the San Bernardino National Forest, but also for a variety of land covers, geomorphic characteristics, regions, climates, and recreation types. This is critical for planning sustainable trail systems under climate change and managing increasing recreational demands.

Crano et al. (in review)

Continued Development of Field Assessment Model

Crano and Kinoshita continue to work with the BBVTF. The scope of work includes:

  1. Work with BBVTF to review current proposed model and results of sample areas, solicit feedback, and modify procedures to provide optimal results.
  2. Present preliminary model to the USFS to ensure that modeling is in line with project goals. Adjust model as necessary.
  3. Work with BBVTF and use model to assess entire proposed trail network; it’s estimated that there are 8 additional areas. BBVTF will continue to supply field data to be used in interpretation of results.
  4. Analyze and summarize findings for submission to USFS as supporting environmental documents for Big Bear Non-Motorized Recreational Trail Network Plan.

See more here:

Why Are These Assessment Models Important?

“Good” and “Bad” trails can be highly subjective and subject to many different interpretations. Using a scientific based assessment model allows us to understand, in an objective fashion, the relative impacts of different trail routes in our area. This knowledge can be used as we choose which routes to include, and not include, in our trail network plan submission to the USFS.

Relevant Forest Service Laws

Record Of Decision: San Bernardino National Forest Land Management Plan

Excerpts obtained from

  1. Recreation opportunities are provided that represent a variety of skill levels, needs and desires in partnership with permit holders, private entities, nonprofit/volunteer groups, diverse community groups, state, federal and tribal partners. The transportation system of roads and trails is safe, affordable, and environmentally sound; responds to public needs; and is efficient to manage.
  2. An environmentally sustainable, integrated system of remote, urban and rural non-motorized trails is established and maintained. The system can accommodate a range of experience in high quality settings, and is managed to minimize conflicts while providing opportunities for partnerships, learning, stewardship and mental and physical renewal for a diverse, urban visitor population. The availability of day-use ‘loop trails’ is improved.
  3. Management challenges related to urbanization include: access to national forest land. Access is a complex problem that has many forms. For example, traditional points of access to the national forests are lost as private land is developed. New landowners are often reluctant to accommodate access across their land. At the same time, the people living adjacent to the national forests want convenient access, often resulting in the development of unplanned roads and trails.

Land Management Plan Part 2 San Bernardino National Forest Strategy

Excerpts obtained from

  1. Trails Program
    • The program includes designating trails suitable for mechanized (mountain bike) use. National Forest staff expect to complete a site-specific road analysis of unclassified roads, and to make recommendations for decommissioning where conflicts with sensitive species are occurring, or for including routes into the National Forest System roads and trails. National Forest staff expect to decommission or classify approximately 150 miles of unclassified roads or trails (see Trans 1 –Transportation Management).
    • The program will focus on creating more easy-to-moderate day-use trails and trail loops and linkages. Additional focus includes resolving road and trail conflict occurring between user groups, communities and resources and with Level 3 roads (2wd passenger vehicle), and removing inappropriate uses.
  2. Trans 1 – Transportation Management: This is found in Appendix B of the Strategy Document.
    • Plan, design, construct, and maintain the National Forest System roads and trails to meet plan objectives, to promote sustainable resource conditions, and to safely accommodate anticipated levels and types of use. Reduce the number of unnecessary unclassified roads and restore landscapes.
    • Enhance user safety and provide adequate parking at popular destinations on high traffic passenger car roads, while also minimizing adverse resource effects.
    • Add unclassified roads to the National Forest System roads or trails when site-specific road analysis determines there is a public need.
    • Decommission roads and trails that have been determined to be unnecessary and establish level of restoration during project planning.
    • Develop an interconnected, shared-use trail network and support facilities that complement local, regional and national trails and open space, and that also enhance day-use opportunities and access for the general public:
    • Construct and maintain the trail network to levels commensurate with area objectives, sustainable resource conditions, and the type and level of use.
    • Maintain and/or develop access points and connecting trails linked to surrounding communities.
  3. Land Use Zone: Big Bear
    • Unauthorized routes originating from private lands adjacent to the national forest boundary and the increased use of mountain bikes off of roads and trails are of concern here. National Forest System lands contribute a significant portion of the total recreation value generated by visitors to the Big Bear area. Serrano Campground (North Shore of Big Bear Lake) is the most requested campground in the National Recreation Reservation System.
    • Many high use recreation areas overlap with threatened, endangered, and sensitive species habitat. These habitats and populations of listed species are affected by the high level of recreation activities, unauthorized road and trail establishment, trash dumping, wood theft and invasive species.
    •  Watershed condition and listed species habitats will be improved by relocating classified roads out of sensitive habitat where possible, decommissioning/adding to system/conversion to trails existing unclassified roads, which affect species habitat, and preventing unauthorized off-road vehicle use.
  4. Land Use Zone: Big Bear Back Country
    • This area has the highest number of unclassified roads and trails in all of the four southern California national forests, with approximately three miles of road per square mile. The volume of new unauthorized road and trail creation is high, as is the breaching of decommissioned and restored roadbeds. Resource degradation caused by unauthorized use is high here.
    • Unauthorized uses, such as user created trails and off-trail mountain bike use, are affecting natural and cultural resources. Emphasis on the transportation system will continue due to the high number of roads and trails here. Relocation of classified roads out of sensitive habitat, analysis and decommissioning/adding to system/conversion to trails of existing unclassified roads and trails, and preventing the establishment of new roads are all priorities.

Implementation Steps

Implementation Steps: Trail Network Plan

  1. Review rough draft mission statement and goals for Big Bear Non-Motorized Recreational Trail Plan.
  2. Review maps of current System Trails.
  3. Review maps of current Non-System Routes and Rough Draft of New Routes.
  4. Identify key deliverables in plan.
  5. Identify areas in which community members can assist in development of plan.
  6. Develop plan to solicit community feedback on new plan.
  7. Develop timeline for plan.
  8. Announce to community and implement.