A rainy day did not put a damper on a protest of the closure of the upper Bump and Grind Trail as about 120 hikers marched into the off-limits area Saturday.
The Department of Fish and Game did not enforce the closure, which is marked by a gate that has been reinforced with barbed wire and metal posts.
Leanne Gallegos, who turned out for the protest despite the light rain, said she has been hiking the trail for 20 years.
“I’ve never seen a bighorn sheep. People are out here to be healthy, to stay healthy,” Gallegos said.
She said today’s protest was the first time she has been up to the closed part of the trail since the gate was installed in June.
“This is ugly,” Gallegos said of the barbed wire around the gate. “This is way worse than anything the hikers have done.”
Richard Wood, 61, of Palm Desert said he probably would not have gone up to the top if state officials stood there threatening arrest.
"I've never heard of anyone actually getting a ticket," he said, adding the he hikes the trail most mornings at 4 a.m.
Earlier this week, Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the DFG, said he hopes hikers understand the closure is for the protection of the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.
“We understand why (the hikers) are unhappy about this (closure), but we’re not going to take any proactive action,” said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the DFG in Sacramento.
The last half-mile of the trail was closed with the installation of the gate in June to help protect the sheep, Hughan said.
He added that the department did install surveillance cameras when the gate was put up in June, but those were vandalized by hikers.
“It’s clearly a hot button issue down there. And it’s clearly an issue people care about. We’re tying to do all we can to protect a listed and endangered species,” Hughan said.
The Department of Fish and Game previously said anyone caught in the closed section of the trail could be cited and could face a misdemeanor and up to a year in jail.
With more than 200 people using the trail daily, DFG scientists have grown concerned that the human presence is disturbing groups of ewes that are caring for their young nearby.
Stephen Thewlis, a hiker who organized the protest, said he believed the turnout was down a little because of the rain.
“A larger issue is the progressive closure of more and more trails in the name of the sheep,” said Thewlis, who hiked to the top.
He said that many locals use the trail because they can’t afford to use the gym or prefer to be outdoors.
“Hikers have some rights too. Until they can really show that the high mortality of new-born lambs is due to people rather than disease and predators, until that is made absolutely scientifically clear then the rights of the people should prevail,” he said.
He said state officials left out consideration for a key group when they decided to close the trail.
"The only species not considered in the plan is the human species," Thewlis said.