Cotoni-Coast Dairies: First phase includes 19 miles of singletrack north of Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship (SCMTS) is building the trail, following a detailed design process in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the land manager for the property. One of the more complicated aspects, creating public access with trailhead parking, will fall under the BLM’s purview. Access to trailheads will be available at several points along the north and south edges of the property, with trails for just about every kind of (non-motorized) user including world-class, purpose-built adaptive-accessible loops.
Design and construction will take several years, with bits of the trail system opening in phases. Phase one comprises 19 miles, with a $3 million budget. SCMTS paid trailworkers, and volunteer trail crews started the work in recent months, cutting trail in a canyon on the east side of Highway 1, just south of Davenport’s Swanton Berry Farm.
Matt De Young, SCMTS executive director, anticipates an aggressive schedule of volunteer and staff-driven trail days with the goal of completing nine miles of singletrack by spring.
“It’s been a long time coming. In 1998 a whole slew of organizations got involved in acquiring and protecting this land,” De Young says. Several land trust organizations initiated the effort to prevent large-scale development on the property, but progress toward public access didn’t come until recent years. “Eventually it became BLM land in 2014, and it was one of the areas designated as a national monument in the last part of the Obama administration, in 2017.
“From there it kicked off planning process with public engagement, and that’s where [SCMTS] got really involved. We raised hands and said, ‘We can help with this.’”
On an unseasonably warm Friday morning in February, a group of 25 volunteers from Fox Factory, a suspension products manufacturer with a corporate facility in Scotts Valley, gathered along a newly cut stretch of trail on the north edge of the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property to spend the better part of the day swinging pickaxes, shoveling dirt and rock, and scraping at the exposed earth with McLeods. It’s part of the company’s Trail Trust program, which gives grants and volunteer time to support access to trails and the benefits that come with trail recreation.
This first stretch of trail is a teaser of the majesty of the property. Many of the routes will have views to the ocean and horizon. Some trails will take users into the forest, while others will traverse huge grassy knolls. For these trail volunteers, it’s manual labor with a million-dollar view.
If the weather cooperates, many more volunteer crews — and trail building days with other local corporate partners — will join SCMTS’s paid crew, superintendent and the volunteer “trails sages,” with a robust schedule of workdays in the coming months. When SCMTS puts out a call for volunteers, those spots are quickly filled, an indication that volunteerism is thriving in the local bike community.
“Dig days are some of the most fun and exciting ways to get involved in the community of trail users,” says Katy Poniatowski, SCMTS marketing and communications manager. She joined the Fox employees during the volunteer dig day. “When you look at this, when we do these bigger projects, everyone can feel like they can come and help. And it’s getting to the point where people can’t ignore the power of the mountain bike community.”
The shape, variety and level of difficulty of the trails on the Cotoni-Coast Dairies land is partly the vision of Drew Perkins, trails program manager at SCMTS. He says he worked with BLM’s recreation planner, as well as other stakeholders, to create a “holistic” planning process.
“We started deliberately, just working with their staff, going hiking, coming up with ideas, but just rough ideas,” Perkins says. “You get to know the corridor, flag certain aspects, do groundtruthing and align elements. We don’t usually do super-detailed design in the environmental review phase, but enough to know that it’s doable.”
Part of the challenge will be to work around trail-user needs as well as existing features: The land has four management zones, and approximately ten different watersheds. Equestrian trails will be separate from mountain biking trails, and technical mountain biking trails will be farther from the trailhead to promote greater accessibility for casual riders, hikers and users with mobility limitations. There will be some trails that are hike/bike/mtb, some hike/mtb, and others hike/horse. The first loop will be built with the goal to accommodate adaptive (three-wheel) mountain bikes, Perkins says, which requires a minimum width, and consideration of obstacles and gates, to enable those riders to negotiate the trails unassisted.
Another unique feature of this project is preservation of the heritage of the land. An old ranch building off Cement Plant Road is slated to become an interpretive center, and will include historical education elements, while three ranching operations will continue to run 149 head of cattle on the property. Before the property was surveyed for recreational use, its history and archeology were surveyed as well, including by the Amah Mutsun Land Trust, which chronicled historical presence of the Ohlone, the indigenous peoples of the Popelouchum, an area that stretches from Año Nuevo to the greater Monterey Bay area. As the public experiences the land, it will have opportunities to interact with that history through things like programming and educational signage.
SCMTS has its hand in many trail development and restoration projects, both self-funding in its interaction with public land, and as a contractor for projects that require expert level trail development. The Cotoni-Coast Dairies project is part of the Timeless Trails campaign, a three-year $5 million fundraising effort that will underwrite construction, restoration and maintenance of more than sixty miles of trail in and around the Santa Cruz Mountains.
To learn more about the project, or to donate to the campaign, visit SantaCruzTrails.org.
MAIN IMAGE: SCMTS Trails Laborer Heather Ekstrom captures a morning with the cows out at Cotoni-Coast Dairies. Active grazing will take place throughout the property. Photo by Heather Ekstrom.
Read other articles by Jim Scripps here.