These wheels will soon be welcome on American River Parkway trails

A Great Blue heron along the shore of the American River in Sacramento on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.
A Great Blue heron along the shore of the American River in Sacramento on Wednesday, August 16, 2017. rbenton@sacbee.com

Sacramento-area mountain bikers looking to rack up a few miles of off-road riding will no longer have to drive to foothills trails or settle for levee roads.

Starting in early September, Sacramento County is opening up 6 miles of unpaved maintenance and fire roads in the American River Parkway. Long prohibited in the 23-mile strip of parkland along the banks of the American River, off-road cyclists are getting a three-year pilot program.

The county is holding a launch event on Sept. 8 at the Cal Expo overflow parking lot.

“I heard that it was in the works and I’m so excited,” said longtime Sacramento cyclist Trinity Gleckler. “I can ride from my place in Arden and still make it to that area for some dirt to mix it up.”

The off-roaders will have to stick to trails in the Woodlake and Cal Expo areas, between mile markers 3 and 6. It’s an area of the parkway that’s been dogged for years by trash, refuse and fires from homeless campers in the area.

Getting more eyes and bodies in that region of the parkway for legal uses will make everyone feel safer, including commuters on the paved bike trail, said Chris Schultz, board member for Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates.

“It’s a little underutilized by recreational folks because of the perceived challenges of the homeless campers,” he said. “Anything we can do to make that safer by getting more users down there improves the situation for everyone.”

Gleckler and Schultz said Sacramentans looking for off-roading opportunities in the area now either ride the straight-shot levee roads or drive up into the foothills with their equipment.

“It’s a spirit of exploration, a little more adventure,” Gleckler said of why she enjoys getting off the pavement. “It’s a different skill set – it’s a little more technical.”

Schultz said the Sacramento Police Department and some local high schools run mountain bike teams for youths who will now have a place close by to practice.

“To have them be able to practice right here near downtown rather than driving up to the foothills will be a good amenity,” he said. He plans to take his 8-year-old daughter to the new trails to train.

Jeff Leatherman, head of Regional Parks, said the pilot program first came up during the most recent update of the American River Parkway Plan about a decade ago.

“About two years ago we started to really explore the opportunities,” he said. “There’s been a group of mountain bikers who have been working on this project ... it took us about two years to really get through that process.”

Mountain bikers contacted for this story all pointed to Bob Horowitz as the leading proponent of the plan. Horowitz was traveling outside the country and had minimal ability to communicate this week. He told the Board of Supervisors last week during public testimony that he’d worked for 15 years to get this pilot program off the ground. In an email, he said that after all his hard work, it turns out he won’t be around for opening day.

The American River Parkway Plan calls for the three-year trial period, after which a vote from the Board of Supervisors could make it permanent, Leatherman said.

“That provides us enough data for us to understand the impacts” of trash, erosion or off-trail use, he said.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison