Fallbrook Public Utility District (FPUD) is working with North County Fire, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and the Fallbrook Land Conservancy’s Trails Council to improve public safety at the Sandia Creek River Trails, especially by the swimming hole.
The concentrated effort is meant to suppress illegal activity that happens in the preserve, including bonfires and barbecues, trespassing after hours, littering, and alcohol consumption.
FPUD public affairs specialist Noelle Denke stated that the illegal fires have been a growing concern for FPUD, which is the agency that owns the property Sandia Creek’s trails are located on.
“That’s especially true with the drought,” she said. “The trash has also gotten worse over time.”
FPUD has replaced signs at the entrance of hiking trails clearly stating ordinances regarding drinking, fires, and littering in the area. The Sheriff’s Crime Suppression Team has been frequenting the area, educating individuals who are found in the area about the plans to enforce the regulations more vigorously. Those who have been told repeatedly about regulations may have already received citations.
“People go to the preserve after hours and have barbecues and fire pits, even though they are in a high fire risk area,” said Sheriff’s deputy Tim Clark. “We don’t want a bad fire in the De Luz canyon.”
According to Patty Koch, fire prevention specialist and interim fire marshal for North County Fire, the agency responds frequently to calls regarding fires in the area.
“These rules have been here all along, but people do not follow them. I know [illegal bonfires] happen often enough that fire engines now carry a bucket on board so they can put out fires with water from the creek,” said Koch. “I just put out a fire [on July 18], which consisted of burning logs that had been left still smoldering. We don’t want children to accidentally walk over smoldering embers or coals.”
Koch said that the De Luz canyon is especially dry during the summer seasons, and even small fires can cause tremendous damage during fire season. Koch also stated that portable barbecue pits are not recommended in the area.
“Right now the fuel moisture is very dry, and what would normally not be problematic would cause damage,” said Koch. “Everyone should be more careful, especially since a fire in this wilderness would be pretty devastating in the summer, or during a Santa Ana wind. We would have a fire similar to the one we had a few months ago.”
When responding to fire calls, Koch stated that fire engines
have difficulty reaching the trails because of cars that are
parked partially on the roadways.
Denke stated the trail has gotten more popular, and individuals leaving their cars on the side of the road can cause a driving hazard unless they are pulled completely off the road. As a response to the traffic hazard, Sheriff’s deputies will be citing or towing vehicles that partially block roadways.
“The number of people parked on the side of the road gets bigger and bigger, and you can see how the area is being manipulated by the traffic,” said Denke. “We also believe that it is not just Fallbrook residents visiting the trail; people from Temecula area are also going down there. When (FPUD associate) David Horn and I went down there recently, we saw a few people on inner tubes on the creek. They asked us where we were from, which led me to believe that they were not from the area.”
With the influx of guests at the trails, the amount of trash and litter has significantly increased.
“The trash amount is ridiculous,” said Clark. “There are literally piles of trash after the weekend, to the point that it wouldn’t hurt to have a dumpster out there.”
Donna Gebhart, a representative of the Trails Council, who has volunteers clean alongside the road upon occasion, stated residents using the trails are supposed to take their trash with them.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful place, and we all enjoy and love it. We would appreciate if people would follow the ‘pack it in, pack it out,’ process,” she said. “There is a lot more trash now, and if anyone is interested, we would love to have volunteers help us. If anyone needs community service hours – for high school or otherwise – we would love to sign those forms. We have a young man who spends half a day each weekend picking up trash, bagging it, and throwing it away in the FPUD dumpster as community hours.”
In addition to leaving litter, individuals have also been drinking illegally and trespassing after hours to hold bonfire parties in the Sandia Creek riverbed, leaving behind glass bottles and other drinking paraphernalia.
“We once found a beer pong table and boxes of bottles along the trees,” said Clark. “We know that some parents are no longer taking their children to the trails on the weekends because there is an older crowd there, with underage drinking. We wouldn’t want to have a child get hurt from the glass that is left by them.”
Detective Clark stated the Sheriff’s Department will more frequently be enforcing and citing those who are conducting illegal activity in the area.
“We will be holding operations over the weekends, have a more visible presence, and might vary patrols from weekend to weekend,” said Clark. “We started giving out information about the tighter regulations on June 16, and we will have a zero tolerance. Currently, no additional funds have been requested, but if we need to increase patrols, we might request FPUD fund officers to patrol a few days a week.”
North County Fire, the Sheriff’s Department and the Trails Council have all been happy with FPUD’s response to concerns by community members.
“FPUD has been very responsive, and has asked for ways to notify the public of the county codes,” said Clark. “Those new signs have been put up, and we will be enforcing the ordinances now that this information has been released.”
To volunteer for the Trails Council, contact Donna Gebhart at [email protected] To report a fire or illegal activity at the Sandia Creek trails, call 911.