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Trails Council Honors Kalon Kelley

Kelley honored for his long time trail efforts.

Ray Ford

This Monday night Kalon Kelley will be honored by the Trails Council for his many years of service on behalf of our local trails. Not only will you have a chance to thank him for these efforts but after the presentation of the Environmental Award, there will be a slide show featuring images taken by Ray Ford, teacher Paul Cronshaw and several forest rangers of conditions on the wilderness trails after the Zaca Fire. This promises to be a first glimpse of what things are like, what may open soon and what trails may stay closed for quite a while.

I first met Kalon out on the trail. On behalf of the Los Padres Forest Association’s trail efforts I was leading a series of extended volunteer projects in the backcountry and Kalon emailed me to say that he’d like to join the group.

The project wasn’t in an easy-to-get-to location – more than twenty fairly rugged miles separated the trailhead from our destination. We were going in the easy way by driving to the top of the mountains to a point where we could drop in from above. Kalon explained that not only would he be going in the long way but that he’s see us later that day; twenty miles, it appeared, was no problem for him.

On the far left, Kalon celebrates finishing cutting the last of many down trees in the Dick Smith Wilderness with other trail volunteers.
Ray Ford

I later learned that he was not only way older than me but that I couldn’t keep up with him either. A long distance trail runner by nature, he was used to putting in way more hours than I was. It was a great trip and we accomplished a lot of good work, brushing out the upper Sisquoc, re-cutting trail in Alamar Canyon that hadn’t been worked in more than a decade and rebuilding several camps in the process.

Looking for a way across the canyon at the Barone Ranch.
Ray Ford

I wondered if I’d see Kalon again. Of course, I should have known better. Over the next several years he joined me on a number of the front country trail projects, encouraged me to work with him to re-open the Franklin Trail behind Carpinteria, and got me out in the Gaviota area to help him work on his favorite project, which was to build a trail from the Barone Ranch up to the top of the mountains.

As a member of the County Riding & Hiking Trails Advisory Committee (CRAHTAC) he was keenly interested in seeing new trails developed along the Gaviota Coast and single-handedly corralled those in County Public Works who were responsible for managing the ranch, Supervisor Brooks Firestone, and – of course – me to help him with the project. On several occasions we explored new route possibilities, always through thick, almost impenetrable brush, and on more than one occasion came back to our car thoroughly trashed and completely exhausted.

The most fun we had, though, was on the other end of the mountains. Though not currently open to the public now, the historic Franklin Trail followed a route from behind Carpinteria High School up into the mountains and over to Jameson Reservoir on the Santa Ynez River. When I wrote my first day hikes book in 1975 the trail was still open and I included it along with the other front country trails. However, not too long after the property owners along the lower foothills closed the trail for use.

Kalon works his way under one of many tough spots on the way to finding a route up to the top of the Gaviota area crest.
Ray Ford

For the past twenty-five years CRAHTAC has dogged the County to get the easements needed to re-open the trail and recently it appears that success is near at hand. With one easement in place and several others almost completed, the trail may once again be open to the public. Kalon knew that getting the easements in place was just the first step in the process. First, the county would need to build the lower trail leading up the 1,800′ of almost vertical wall directly behind Carpinteria and after that, the old Forest Service trail to the crest would need to be located and re-built.

Kalon prevailed upon me to head up with him to the top of the mountains to see if we could find the upper trailhead where it crossed over the mountaintop. This wasn’t an easy task. First of all, it is 8 miles of OHV trail across the ridge to where the trail crossed over and not easy to reach. Once in the general area we’d then need to see if we could find any traces of it: in the past we’d heard that even Forest Service crews hadn’t been able to spot it.

But there was Kalon with his trusty Flash Gordon style wrist GPS which he took everywhere with him. He’d entered the GPS coordinates from the National Geographic TOPO program into it before I’d hardly had time to park the truck and was out scouting the hillside to see if he could find the spot where his GPS said the trailhead ought to be. Not too surprisingly, he found it before I had my day pack on and was ready to go. We had a great time that day, not only in finding the trail but by cutting our way down it a quarter mile we discovered that the tread was still there and in good shape. All the trail needed was a bit of brushing to get it in shape once again.

Kalon always knew where we were using his handy dandy write-style GPS – even if there wasn't an easy way out!
Ray Ford

Later, on another trip form the bottom end, Kalon was also able to use the GPS to locate the bottom trailhead and that day we worked our way a short distance up towards the mountaintop. Subsequently, we’ve had several more trips up to work on the brush and this year we may be able to get the Forest Service section of the trail re-opened.

Thanks Kalon. You’ve been an inspiration and are well deserving of this year’s Trail Council Environmental Award.

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