With a warm winter sun shining down, Montecito Creek bubbling by, and poison oak sprouting at every turn, volunteers from the Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) trails crew were out in full force last week along the lower stretches of the East Cold Spring trail. In a backbreaking blur of shovels, pickaxes, and low-level explosives, the crews mended switchbacks, built erosion-fighting water drains, and fixed potentially perilous passages along the popular Montecito trail. All this sweat effort was going toward making the trail more user-friendly for the hundreds of bikers, hikers, and horseback riders who use it each week and also jumpstarted a larger rehab effort for other trails in the area. “It is a difficult situation because the trails have been let go for so long,” explained Santa Barbara County trails guru, LPFA crew leader, and Independent contributor Ray Ford. “But really, if you fix the erosion problems, you’ve probably dealt with the majority of the issues on the trail. Hopefully we can piggyback this onto a much bigger project for all the front country trails.”
With washouts, fallen rocks, and other problems afflicting most of the county’s front country trails, Ford and the recently formed Santa Barbara Trails Council hope the Cold Spring trail facelift will mark the beginning of an ambitious project. Dubbed the Front Country Community Trail Project, it aims to rehabilitate all the public trails in the southern foothills of Santa Barbara and Montecito one at a time over the next five to 10 years, largely through volunteer help. The current work is funded by a Forest Service grant to LPFA for work on Cold Spring’s upper-west fork and the Jesusita trail after flood damage in 2005. For the rest of the front country, they just need more funding.
While the multi-jurisdictional Trails Taskforce-an oversight committee composed of county, city, and Los Padres National Forest representatives devoted to management, maintenance, and long-term planning-attempts to massage away the tension among hikers, bikers, and horseback riders over who has trail rights, Ford hopes that an alliance of trail users will be able to provide a new standard of stewardship and safety for popular hikes, such as the Romero and Rattlesnake Canyon trails. Underscoring the importance of trail upkeep and cooperation, Ford took a break from work last week to explain: “You get three-year-olds up here, you get 80-year-olds up here, you get people with dogs, people on mountain bikes and unicycles going both ways, sometimes all at once : Sooner or later there is going to be a real bad accident.”
Ultimately, the Trails Council’s effectiveness will rely on three factors: trail user support, fundraising, and the taskforce’s as-yet-unseen ability to reach common ground on usage issues that can eventually be brought before Santa Barbara City Council and county supervisors for approval. While the latter has been stalled in recent months with back-to-back monthly meeting cancellations, taskforce members expect to hold a public hearing early next month. Meanwhile, the Trails Council-which already has support from both Sierra Club and Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers-isn’t wasting any time in gathering momentum toward its goal. For three straight days last week, volunteer crews of up to eight people-hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and mountain unicyclists among them-were on the trails doing the work that needs to be done so all citizens can all enjoy the beautiful nature that is Santa Barbara’s backyard.
For more information or to volunteer, go to sbtrails.org.