A group of equestrian enthusiasts, hikers and others are slated Tuesday to appear before the Board of Supervisors to denounce what they say is a failure of Riverside County officials to halt the loss of access to trails around Lake Mathews.

A “Save Our Trails” rally is planned outside the board chamber, with some of the participants intending to speak during the board’s public comments portion of the board’s agenda.

The protest stems from what the horse owners and trekkers, collectively known as the Greater Lake Mathews/Gavilan Hills Residents United, see as unceasing encroachments on popular pathways bordering the lake and coursing through nearby foothills.

“A large number of regional and community trails are being destroyed and eliminated from the County Adopted Trails System, which is part of the General Plan,” according to a statement released by organizer Chris Herron, who alleged that the county “is unwilling to protect these trails, even though many are on county-owned property.”

He pointed to a trail along Idaleona Road as one example. According to Herron, the path is adjacent to a public use road and shows up in the county “road book” as a publicly accessible pathway, but has been fenced off by a landowner.

Another trail fronts Lake Mathews Drive and was “destroyed by a property owner who illegally removed tons of dirt, planted hundreds of pepper trees, blocking the trail, and installed chain-link fencing topped with barbed wire,” Herron said.

The county also intends to build a spillway that would further erode the trail, according to Herron.

Finally, a trail that cuts across Cajalco Road, near Wood Road, was taken out of service after a gas station project was approved by the county, and opponents blamed Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, in whose district the area lies, for not taking equestrians and outdoor enthusiasts’ needs into account.

“Many other trails throughout the county have been, and are in the process of, being destroyed and eliminated,” Herron said.

Jeffries released a statement to City News Service countering that the protesters are comprised mainly of property owners in conflict with a large landowner whose activities they don’t like.

“There seems to be a lot of confusion as to what is an official approved trail, and what is just an informal trail people have used over time, generally on private property,” Jeffries told CNS.

“The county’s General Plan is essentially a long-term wish list, which includes a lot of colored lines on a map that could potentially be developed as a legal trail some day. But the mere presence of an existing path does not legally make it an existing public trail,” he said. “Those potential trail lines on the map are subject to changes or even property owner opposition. We’ve been in contact with a local equestrian club, and they did not identify any obstructions related to approved horse riding trails, so these new claims are a little surprising.”

The supervisor said his staff is continuing to coordinate with county agencies to “work on improving our public parks and trail networks … so that residents can more safely utilize this asset without having to park on private property or ride across dangerous roads to access the trails there.”

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