The Forest of Nisene Marks? Read the deed
(note: that was the Sentinel's heading, plus the following is as I submitted. Their couple of edits were helpful, but what's here is almost the same...)

In the Ď60s the Marks family gave a wonderful gift to Santa Cruz County and the State of California. The Forest of Nisene Marks is a beautiful, peaceful oasis of serenity in our midst, especially appreciated with such horrible things happening in the world today. Sadly, a horrible thing is happening also to Nisene Marks and the generous legacy of the Marks family in that California State Parks is pressing forward with a plan that disregards the deed agreement by which the land was granted to the State.

A central issue in the debate over the general plan drawn up for the park is whether or not mountain bikes should be allowed on the single track trails above the steel bridge.

Most hikers are saying that they would like to see the intent of the deed honored and bikes kept off the upper trails so that the quiet appreciation of nature that hiking nurtures can be enjoyed without being suddenly startled and overwhelmed with the adrenaline rush of fear experienced when a biker comes racing from out of nowhere down a winding, narrow trail.

A large number of very political, organized and vocal mountain bikers are pushing for access to the trails, as they have successfully done all over the Bay Area. Since the deed stating the use restrictions for the property was written in the Ď60s, it of course doesnít explicitly state that mountain bikes (which didnít exist then) are to be restricted. Bike advocates are eager to take advantage of this "technicality". (I thank the mountain bikers Iíve talked to who do recognize that "shared trails" in Nisene Marks would be equivalent to saying "hike at your own risk" and who are not advocates of reinterpreting the deed.)

In the Ď80s when mountain bikes became popular the deed restrictions were quickly interpreted to not allow bikes on the trails above the steel bridge, a rule that has stood until now. I think people should read the deed to get the full sense of its intent, which is why Iíve put it on-line at

Two key elements in the deed are that it specifies that the property "be preserved for all time as a natural preserve" and that the use of the property (roughly above the steel bridge) "shall be limited to camping, nature study, hiking, and associated activities". The deed also states "that there shall be no horseback riding thereon," which has mostly been interpreted as being for protection against erosion, something that bikes romping down wet trails excel at causing.

"Natural Preserve" is a categorization of land use for the State that prohibits mountain bikes. Bike advocates quickly point out that the use of the words in the deed predated the adoption of the term by the State. I personally have a lot of respect for words and I would expect that it was the purposeful use of the term in legal documents during the Ď60s that led to its adoption as a land use designation in 1971 by the State. I think when the Marks family (and the Nature Conservancy, which helped with the deed) said "natural preserve", they meant those words exactly as they are legally used today.

Bike advocates further propose that the thrill-sport of mountain biking down single track trails is an activity associated to "camping, nature study, and hiking" and therefore allowed by the deed. Keeping in mind that trail biking down the steep, winding trails that are covered by the deed restrictions is a far cry from a family gently riding their bikes along the fire road in Nisene Marks to enjoy the great outdoors; doesnít it seem that trail-riding is to "camping, nature study, and hiking" what a tidal wave would be to a quiet walk on the beach? Reading, photography, jogging Ė these are activities associated to "camping, nature study, and hiking". Perhaps a measure of what is in keeping with such "activities" is how likely it is to hurt the very nature thatís being studied and enjoyed. I doubt that experiencing the sadness of finding one of the many banana slugs that make their slow way across the trails squished and killed unknowingly by a mountain biker is Ďan activity associated to nature studyí that the Marks family had in mind.

Please read the deed at my web site since itís not included at the site where you can find the preliminary general plan and draft EIR, as well as specifics about the next public meeting which will be held April 12, 2003 at 10:00 AM at the Mar Vista Elementary School Multi-Purpose Room, 6860 Soquel Drive. Written comments regarding the plan and EIR can be submitted but must be postmarked no later than may 12, 2003 and sent to California State Parks Northern Service Center, ATTN: Ellen Wagner, P.O. Box 942896, Sacramento, CA 94296-0001.

Page Created: April 26, 2003 — Last Update: April 26, 2003 — maintained by
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Email me: Rich Apple