One trail, called White Rock, begins just below the Country Club's lower parking lot and heads along the Cosumnes River toward the Yellow Bridge.
An extensive trails network created by a group of community volunteers is fueling trespassing concerns at the same time the group is seeking approval from landowners and local authorities for the trails, which are being developed on private properties without official oversight or owner permission.
The trail construction began in the 1990s, headed by Murietan Roger Brandt, known by many for his volunteer work cleaning up debris dumped in the community’s open areas. The group says there are now 12 miles of trails, with another three to six miles planned, and it has 30 volunteers.
The trails are narrow paths that wind through areas of great natural beauty, including stretches along the Cosumnes River that have been designated by the county as a resource protection area. These trails go beyond trails planned as part of the community's development process.
The ongoing creation of the trails has been an open secret in the community for more than a decade, though no one complained publicly until recently. In the last year or two, Brandt and others have led trail tours for community organizations and begun circulating a trails map.
Brandt and his group, called the Murieta Trail Stewardship, recently submitted a 33-page document outlining the trails effort to the Rancho Murieta Association, the Community Services District and the Pension Trust Fund for Operating Engineers, the largest owner of undeveloped land in Murieta North.
The document asks for cooperation to create a “timeless, lasting trail system in our community for recreational opportunities and economic stimulus.” (Read the complete document.)
But Murietan John Sullivan, who is involved in area development, has concerns about property rights on land to be developed inside Rancho Murieta and people walking and biking into ranches to the east. He said all of the owners of undeveloped land and adjoining ranches are concerned.
“The real problem is that at some point in time, the bike-riding group -- I think it’s around 40 people -- and the Roger (Brandt) group and his minions that are helping do what they do -- there’s going to have to be an eyeball-to-eyeball, face-to-face, because nobody wants to escalate it out of control,” he told a CSD workshop last month.
Trails maps issued by the Murieta Trail Stewardship. Click the maps to see larger images.
“It’s got the potential for anarchy written all over it, and that’s the wrong thing to have happen here. We had one kid life-flighted out of here being off the trails from a bike accident and it’s inevitable there’s going to be more injuries. RMA and CSD, like it or not, are directly and indirectly involved.”
He said some of the people trespassing are from outside Murieta.
Although he said landowners would push for arrests only as a last resort, Sullivan added, “It’s going to take a long time to get it back under a semblance of control. I don’t think you’re ever going to completely control it. You’re just going to get it within bounds, reasonable bounds.”
Among his property interests, Sullivan heads a group of investors negotiating to buy the Pension Trust Fund property in Rancho Murieta, where many of the trails have been built.
At the CSD meeting, Sullivan and others spoke of “prescriptive easements,” a legal term that refers to an owner being forced to accept an easement on land after continued public use without permission.
Speaking for the trails group was Mark Pecotich, a South resident who lists that he’s a retired mountain bike racer and a certified trail builder among his qualifications.
"For over 20 years those trails have been being built by different residents...” he said in a telephone interview. “What was occurring was, as they continue to get larger and larger and larger, we came forward to Pension Trust Fund and said to them, OK, here's this plan we want to share with you because we want to have a dialogue about it. … Over the years, the Pension Trust Fund was aware of what was happening out there and residents' use of the land. But now there's an opportunity to try to talk to them fuller about, really, an economic opportunity a trail system represents for a community.”
In 2006, Brandt asked the CSD’s help to replace a footbridge he had built as part of the trail system. He spoke openly of the trails at a CSD board meeting and shared photos of the small footbridge that had been removed. At a later committee meeting, the CSD backed away from the request, saying it was PTF property, not community property, and the CSD’s cooperation would create liability issues for the district.
Another trail features stone steps to a bench with a river view and a back shaped like a salmon.
PTF representatives did not return several phone calls for this story. Brandt asked that the group’s board speak for the effort.
In the interview, Pecotich acknowledged the hikers and bikers are on private property.
"We fully understand and we completely appreciate the fact that we've been able to go out and use those lands, that the hundreds of people that use them every day are all committing trespassing, every one of them,” he said. “And that's the unfortunate thing that's never really been communicated to our community about what the rules and rights of use of that land. … That's why we're trying to take the time now to do the due diligence, to have the open dialogue with people like John Sullivan, with the Pension Trust Fund ... as well to talk about the road ahead."
Pecotich said the trespass issues at nearby ranches weren’t caused by people associated with his group. “That’s just people that are uneducated about where Rancho Murieta ends and where the ranchers’ land begins,” he said.
Pecotich is one of the Murietans listed on the board of Murieta Trail Stewardship. The others are Brandt, Bob Summersett, Pete Faeth, Jason Zenker and John Weatherford.