A sign at the base of a trail leading into an electric-green oak forest in Annadel State Park reads: “Illegal Trail. No Trespassing. Area Under Surveillance.”
Yet horse hoofprints, tire tracks and boot prints show how commonly people disregard park rules designed to keep some areas free from human impact.
The park is home to 44 miles of maintained trails. Park rangers estimate there are twice as many miles of paths off-limits to visitors.
Generations of ranchers, miners and wild animals wore paths before the area became Annadel State Park in 1971. But the recent crash of a cyclist who broke his neck on an illegal trail near Bennett Peak has highlighted tension between avid park users who stray from official trails and park stewards charged with preserving the area.
“What do you want Annadel to look like in 100 years?” State Park Supervising Ranger Neill Fogarty asked.
Annadel's paths traverse more than 5,500 acres nestled among Santa Rosa's eastern neighborhoods. The park, which is known for its quality biking, is rare because all but a mile of its official trails are open to hikers, bikers and equestrians.
A new series of educational placards soon will appear on popular paths to explain why the park is asking people to stay out of certain areas.
The sign was developed with the Sonoma County Trails Council and Bike Monkey, a cycling events group that puts on Levi Leipheimer's King Ridge GranFondo.
“It is a problem, yes,” said Danita Rodriguez, acting superintendent for state parks' Diablo Vista District, which includes Annadel. “In Annadel, social trails are growing in numbers and heavily used.”
Many users ignore park rules. An average of 410 people visit the park each day, but of those only about 20 people pay the entrance fee, according to an estimate based on 2010-2011 figures.