Christina Vanoverbeke, CVanoverbeke@ExplorerNews.com
Oct. 26, 2005 - A public horse trail in Oro Valley was closed Sept. 15 after a family discovered it runs through their yard.
The trail will remain closed, say Stephen and Kay Fake, unless the land is taken from them by Oro Valley through condemnation proceedings or through an agreement to purchase the land from them.
The Oro Valley Town Council voted to buy or condemn the easement in October. That means the land would still belong to the Fakes, but the trail itself would be maintained by the town.
The trail is one of the last places to ride a horse away from the increasingly bustling town streets and neighborhoods. Closing it would be a blow to the equestrian community, and to the once rural way of life that is still holding out in some areas of the town, say local equestrians.
An undisclosed monetary offer was made to the Fakes by the town, according to Assistant Town Manager David Andrews and the Fakes are now considering whether to accept it. In the meantime, the town is proceeding with condemnation.
Local riders say they are unable to safely access the Canada del Oro Wash, a major thoroughfare for equestrians in the Northwest, while the trail is closed.
Some have started using the streets of the Logan's Crossing community as a detour, which has upset other homeowners in the area.
The trail is located at the western edge of the Fake property on West Saddlehorn Drive, at the end of West Linda Vista Drive. It is 250 feet long, less than the length of a football field, and about 10 feet wide.
It is maintained by Pima County, according to Andrews, but the county has expressed interest in turning it over to Oro Valley and the town has agreed to take it.
The town is stepping in because there are other horse owners affected by the loss of the trail, Andrews said.
"It's a matter of public policy. Without that portion of the trail there is no way to access the wash. It's like taking the middle piece out of a highway. You could go off into a field to get around, I suppose, but you prefer not to," he said.
The trail has been closed for about one month and the Fakes say the riders have respected the barricades they erected to keep people out.
Until a few months ago, the Fakes believed the trail, and the land it is on, to be owned by Pima County. Then one day Kay Fake noticed a few people in her yard inspecting the trail. When she approached them, they asked her if she and her husband would consider selling the county the land.
That was about six months ago. After exploring their options and talking with a lawyer, the Fakes decided they should no longer allow riders to gallop through their yard. They let the county know that they would be closing the trail in September if another solution was not found.
Concerns over liability and about resale value of their home led the Fakes to block off the trail and bar riders from crossing their property. Barricades were constructed at both ends of the Fake property to keep horses out.
"We feel very bad about it. We're from Montana. We used to be horse riders. We talk to the riders who use the trail. We've even gotten to know some of them. We would like to see the trail still exist," he said.
The town is trying to find a solution that addresses the public need while still compensating the Fakes, Andrews said.
"It's a tough situation. They (the Fakes) don't want that use for the trail. I can understand that. At the same time, the trail was there when they bought that property," Andrews said.
The town considered moving the trail to a place off of the Fake's property, but Andrews said the route that was in use is the preferred trail. The homeowners association also expressed a preference in keeping the trail as is, he said.
If the town condemns their property, the Fakes say the encroachment will diminish the value of their home.
If they were to sell the trail land, the size of their lot would be reduced to less than one acre, and according to the Saddlebrooke 2 planned area development, they must have at least one acre to sell the lot.
"We feel like our backs are against the wall," Stephen Fake said. "Taking the easement is definitely the easiest way to resolve this, but it doesn't seem fair to us."
The trail is actively used by hundreds of area equestrians, according to Oro Valley Parks and Recreation representatives. About one to two riders use the trail daily, with more using it on the weekends. Motorized vehicle riders also use the trail regularly, the Fakes said.
The trail has been used for at least 30 years, according to Sue Clark, the president of the Pima Trails Association. The association oversees all the public hiking, equestrian and mountain bike trails in eastern Pima County.
She said it is the trail to use to get into the CDO wash in Oro Valley and that its closure is difficult on riders who are looking for another safe way.
Pima County has put up signs at the beginning and end of the trail to warn riders that it is barricaded, but if riders miss the signs they have to turn around when they reach the barricades, Clark said.
"Riders are trying to go around on the streets or are looking for other ways to get there," she said.
The problem is that the trail was being used before the Logan's Crossing was built. When the developer designed the community around the trail, it was routed straight down a sandy hill. The local people said at the time it was not a good place for it, according to Clark. The trails association has been working on improving the trail for years, she said.
The location of the trail was not correctly recorded, which is why the homeowners did not realize until recently that the land belonged to them.
Another solution to this problem was suggested by the Fakes, but they say they have gotten no response from the town or county. Another Oro Valley trail runs behind their property, as well as the property of a neighbor. They would like to see the trail rerouted so that no one has to lose land.
"If it was about taking our property or having no trail, then I would say this is rational action, but this doesn't have to be done. There is another solution," Stephen Fake said.
Moving the trail to the area the Fake's referenced would affect other homeowners, Clark said. And that area is overgrown and would require a lot of improvements to be usable, she said.
There have been occasional conflicts between the once largely rural lifestyle of the town and the growing suburban lifestyle that has spread across it since the town was incorporated, Andrews said. He has been with the town for 15 years and has dealt with several issues between horse owners and non-horse owners. He said the town looks to its General Plan and zoning codes in many situations to determine a course of action.
Many decisions on these types of issues also come down to questions of policy that are decided by the town's council, he said.
Clark said there has always been a lot of horse activity in the area in question in Oro Valley. Along Calle Concordia are several horse properties and horse stables, which bring in a lot of horse traffic.
Clark has lived in the Tucson area for 22 years, and at one time kept horses at a stable there.
Back then, a horse lover could ride almost anywhere, Clark said, but that has changed over the decades.
"Urban and rural meeting is not a rare issue. It's happening all over Pima County because of the fantastic growth that's been going on," she said.
The trails association encounters issues regarding growth and horse trails, but this particular issue of someone closing an existing trail is unique.
"The horse people, they're pretty understanding. They know that growth is coming, houses will be built, the area will fill with development," Clark said.
The growth of the Northwest, and of all of Pima County for that matter, is the reason why keeping trails such as the one at Logan's Crossing is important to equestrians.
"Twenty years ago, if that trail closed, you could find another way to the CDO. Now, you don't have that option," she said.