New bus service caters to bicyclists at Nisene Marks
With the Nov. 2 vote on Proposition 21, The State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act right around the corner, tree huggers throughout California are doing their part to protect the future of Mother Nature.
After working in construction for 29 years, 53-year-old Santa Cruz local Dave Smith recently decided to renew his connection with Nisene Marks State Park. The adventure enthusiast created a part-time job for himself that would allow him to ride his mountain bike five times a week.
On June 5, Shuttle Smith Adventures was born. The daily bus service, driven by Smith, takes nine people and their mountain bikes to the top of Demonstration Forest in Nisene Marks where a 15-mile descent awaits them.
“I’m opening it up to people who don’t have five hours to ride up and back down,” says Smith, who has only biked up to Demonstration Forest three times in his 26 years of living here. “Up there is timber land and they’ve got jumps, single tracks, a fire road, creeks—everything a mountain biker could want.”
Whether customers are interested in a hike, a laid-back pedal or a screaming ride down the 2,500-foot incline, for $15, Smith eliminates the need to waste gas money on the curvy mountain road or waste energy attempting to traverse the terrain uphill.
“I’m a fan,” says Aptos mountain biker Kurt Jensen, who has ridden the shuttle with his friends three times since it opened. “It definitely brings something new to the area that hasn’t been available before.”
The shuttle service may be testament to a recent wave of adventure tourism in this country, but it’s also part of a last-ditch effort to bring more people into state parks.
Since a $14 million cut from the state last year, state parks have had to limit hours, close their gates, neglect maintenance, take down bridges, close bathrooms, cut off access to popular trails that have become unreachable with overgrowth and reduce the number of park rangers and beach lifeguards.
While local agencies are attempting to recover the costs through signature collecting and fundraising, organizations like Friends of Santa Cruz County State Parks hope that Proposition 21 will finally bring some financial stability to the ailing parks.
If Proposition 21 is passed, a fee of $18, tacked on to each California vehicle’s annual registration, will supply the state parks with the funding they need to escape their financial woes. In exchange, each vehicle with California license plates will have day use and parking fees waived. Since it usually costs $10 to $15 to be admitted to local state parks, two trips each year would more than cover these costs, and, as a result, approximately $500 million a year will be made available to state parks.
“Our state parks are chronically underfunded,” says Bonny Hawley, Executive Director for Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. “The more people who visit and pay the day-use fee, such as at Nisene Marks (which is currently $8), the better the parks are able to deliver valuable services.”
With some influence from Third District Supervisor Neal Coonerty, the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support the proposition on March 16.
“I’m supporting it 150 percent,” says Assemblymember Bill Monning. “It’s essential to the parks and the local economy as it will create a permanent trust fund that will allow the parks to catch up on their capital.”
According to Monning, giving people the opportunity to experience everything the state parks have to offer, like Smith is doing with his business, is the first step.
In Nisene Marks alone, there are 10,000 acres of rugged semi-wilderness, rising from sea level to steep coastal mountains of more than 2,600 feet. Visitors can still find evidence of logging operations, mill sites and trestles within the park, which was donated to the state in 1963 by Salinas’ Marks children and was the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
With more than 30 miles of trails in Nisene Marks for hikers, joggers and mountain bikers of all levels to enjoy, and an entrance right off Soquel Drive in Aptos, it’s a wonder why more people don’t take advantage of the recreational opportunities in our own backyard.
“Part of sustaining parks is making sure people have access and can derive what the parks are there for,” says Monning. “The more people visit, the more they tell their friends and relatives.”
Smith currently manages about seven shuttle trips per week, bringing an average of 25 people to the top of Nisene Marks, but he hopes that number will increase. In an effort to reach out to tourists, Shuttle Smith Adventures offers pick-up/drop-off airport service, custom routes and assistance with bike repairs and rental.
But for Smith, his business is not just about opening up new opportunities for the mountain biking community. It’s also about reminding everyone of the importance of preserving California’s state parks.
“They’re the jewel of California,” he says.
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