It's spring in Annadel State Park, which means the hills are green, the grass is tall and the wildflowers carpet the meadows with fragrant color.
And as temperatures creep into the 80s this weekend, the park's 44 miles of trails will fill with hikers, runners, bicyclists and horseback riders.
Annadel, with more than 5,000 acres of accessible wilderness right on the edge of Santa Rosa, is a unique gem. It's a place where, despite the occasional grumpy encounter or nasty letter to the editor, all kinds of trail users have learned to get along. For the most part, horse people and bike people and foot people tolerate and even respect each other in the park.
That's no small feat. Annadel's "multi-use" trails &#8211; open to all comers no matter their mode of travel &#8211; weren't always integrated. It wasn't so long ago that bikes were restricted here, horses there, and conflicts abounded.
Today, we embrace Rodney King's plea and "all get along."
Or most do.
Still, there is strife in the park. Rangers estimate there are twice as many miles of illegal trails as legal ones, and the use of those illegal trails is increasing. That's bad for the land, bad for the wildlife and, ultimately, bad for park users.
The reaction to Julie Johnson's Sunday story about illegal trails (some call them "social" trails, but let's be real here) has been predictable. People who hate cyclists suggest banning mountain bikes from the park (even though equestrians and hikers also use the illegal paths). People who enjoy riding the illegal trails suggest opening them up for sanctioned use.
Since we're being real here, let's throw out the first suggestion. And let's talk about the second.
The illegal trails are getting more use, some say, because Annadel's 44 miles of legal trails are poorly maintained. Rough Go is beyond rough, Cobblestone is full of both cobbles and stones, Burma has holes in it that probably reach all the way to Myanmar.
So, said Jim Keene of the Bike Peddler and NorCal Bike Sport (who doesn't ride illegal trails), some riders look elsewhere for fun: "They make a good case for themselves in that the (illegal) trails are better maintained. They're safer. They don't erode nearly as much," he told Johnson.
But if the park maintenance crews &#8211; which in these budget times are largely comprised of volunteers &#8211; can't keep up with 44 miles of legal trails, how will they ever get to what may be 100 miles of illegal trails? Won't those illegal ones eventually erode and deteriorate? And won't park users then seek out even more illegal playgrounds in the park?
Where does that lead?
Annadel is a park. Not a bike park, or a horse park, or a hiking park, but a park. It is a preserve of oaks and redwoods, of deer and hawks, of creeks and meadows. People who enjoy it should be part of taking care of it.
The best way to do that is to support the policies that keep those 44 miles of trails open to all users, and to support the upkeep of those trails &#8211; not to sneak off into the woods to find some smooth path to tear up. That's selfish and short-sighted.
But there is something you can do if you don't like the condition of the legal trails. Volunteer for a work party with the Sonoma County Trails Council (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you can't donate your sweat, pay your share. Buy a Sonoma County Regional Parks pass (the county took over operation of Annadel from the state last year). It will make you feel a lot better if you're one of those people who drive to Annadel and park outside the gates so you can use the place for free.