San Diego Volunteers Ride In and Keep Up County Trails

Club volunteers routinely ride the trails on horseback year-round and help maintain trails for everyone.

This month, park rangers and maintenance crews with the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will start preparing hiking trails for the rainy season.

Some local volunteers are getting a head start with that effort, at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park.

The county's most popular campground is spread out over 500 acres in Bonita.

It's a lot to maintain, but county workers don't do it alone.

Ever since the park opened nearly 30 years ago, the county has worked with the Bonita Valley Horsemen.

Volunteers with the club do everything from clearing brush to cutting down trees and rebuilding trails.

The club recently held its fall fundraiser at Summit Park Campground.

It's a competition that includes a series of obstacles spread throughout the regional park, testing the riders' horsemanship skills.

In previous years, money raised at the competition was used to repair fences and bridges, and clear debris from the trails, which are shared with hikers, bikers and equestrians.

"People don't realize, even in the drought, a lot of things grow, mud comes, things come in their way, wash away," said Karen Schneider, a member of the Bonita Valley Horsemen.

Club volunteers routinely ride the trails on horseback year-round, checking to see if anything is out of place, or unsafe.

They report their findings to park staff, who can address those issues, or schedule improvement projects.

County workers also clean the trails on a regular basis by removing any accumulated debris and trash that could end up in waterways.

This helps to prevent flooding during heavy rain.

"In these situations we also assess the trails and close any that are unsafe, until water has receded and/or obstructions have been removed for safer travel," said Jessica Geiszler, with the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation. "Safety is a top priority for county parks."

Over the years, the Bonita Valley Horsemen have also purchased amenities for the campground, such as hitching posts and round pens for horses, with money from their yearly fundraiser.

"If we didn't have the horse club, one of the things that would happen is a lot of these trails would disappear, because it takes a lot to maintain them," said Schneider.

The Bonita Valley Horsemen raised about $2,300 dollars from this year's fall fundraiser.

The money comes from entrance fees riders pay to take part in the competition, and a silent auction with items donated from community members.

Outback Steakhouse in National City also contributed to the fundraiser by donating a big lunch spread for the volunteers and participants.

The $2,300 will go towards buying stones and rocks to make the trails passable after the next storm.

"This is the only place where you can ride safely with horses and joggers and bicycles on the same trails," said Cathy Kitchell, who drives in from Jamul to ride the trails in Bonita.

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