Two environmental groups have 150 days from the ruling Dec. 8 to turn the ruling over to state parks officials, who must then bar riders from using the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area.
In September, the California Sportfishing Alliance and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the state, saying Carnegie had no permit from a state water board to allow pollution to flow into the creek, which is completely dry during vast stretches of the year.
The judge’s ruling has baffled state parks officials, who will fight to overturn or postpone the ruling “in order to keep this park open,” said parks spokesman Roy Stearns.
State parks officials say they’ve done everything they can to limit sediment that pours into the creek while balancing park use at the same time.
But that’s not how the environmental groups see it.
They argue motorcyclists have carved a snaking web of trails into hillsides that, during rainstorms, turn into gushing rivulets of mud that cascade into the already-polluted creek.
“The department of recreation thinks they are above the law,” said Bill Jennings, head of the Sportfishing Alliance. “Nothing is being asked of them that isn’t asked of anyone else.”
The park was created in the 1970s and has become phenomenally popular with dirt bike riders seeking adventure. More than 140,000 riders used the park last year, said park Superintendent Joe Ramos.
Parks officials admit riders contribute to sediment in Corral Hollow Creek, and they restrict crossing the creek during storms to cut what flows downstream. Today, riders were seen riding through the muddy creek bottom, which was already drying out from the weekend’s storm.
Where the heavy metals come from is a bit of a mystery, though neighbors in the watershed who surround the park undoubtedly add to the creek’s pollution problems.
There are two nearby research laboratories that test outdoor explosives, and ranchers in the area have cattle. San Francisco water officials have bored tunnels into hillsides for the pipeline that delivers water from Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Tailings from abandoned mines have been identified. Runoff from a county road is believed to add to the creek’s woes as well. And a massive brick factory once sat in the middle of the creek bed where Carnegie now is.
“What it speaks to is how complicated this issue is, and this watershed is” said Daphne Green, a spokeswoman for the state parks off-highway division.
If the judge’s ruling sticks, the park will have to come up with a plan to further limit pollution and sediment and get a permit from the State Water Quality Control Board.
Those who use and work at the park have heard rumors of a possible off-road ban, and they hate to think they could be shut out, even temporarily.
“This is my home, and it’s frustrating,” said Kevin Porter, who been riding at Carnegie since the 1970s. “Now when I ride, it’s like my last day here.”
Tony Shipman owns Motor-Mart, a business inside the park’s gates. He and his employees would be devastated by a ban on riding.
“We rely on this business,” he said. “We’re really in the dark about what’s going on here, and we’re waiting to find out.”