The author joined this group of hearty volunteers to work trails in Los Padres National Forest.
Richie De Maria

If you love the Santa Barbara backcountry, consider joining Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) on an upcoming working vacation trail project. Throughout the year, the volunteer organization cuts trails, cleans trash, and otherwise assists in the maintenance of our vast Los Padres Forest. I joined an April trip along the Sisquoc River with LPFA, and the trip gave this adventurer ample reasons to return. Here are four reasons to make your next local backpack a working vacation.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Join for two nights, or five — as long as you pitch in, it’s up to you. I joined the crew for the better part of four days bookended by solo time along the Sierra Madre Mountains. Meeting up along the staggeringly steep Jackson Trail, we shared a sense of freedom and fellowship: Any bit of work helped. Some stayed for an entire week or more, while other veteran voyagers volunteered in the midst of longer Sisquoc sojourns. Either way, there’s an immediate camaraderie in working alongside these former strangers, sharing already a common love of that mystic wilderness. Among us were Condor Trail thru-hikers and Los Padres rangers, ballet dancers and electricians, all of us paid in the dreamy river breeze and rolling hills of green.

Meet Local Legends: New volunteers work alongside longtimers who’ve dedicated their lives to preserving our area’s wild lands. There’s Bryan Conant, the cartographer célèbre whose works have aided thousands, a friendly leader whose smiles and quips lightened our workloads. There are backcountry horsemen like Richard Waller and Otis Calef, equine food ferriers who carry with them mental anthologies of California backcountry history. Then there’s Richard Scholl, the dry-humored master chef who can fire up a pork loin and pineapple upside-down cake better than many a front-country cook and serve it with a side of campfire stories. His morning “Coffee’s ready!” bellow is so loud it seems to hasten the dawn.

Trails Need Help: New trails cost the Forest Service thousands of dollars per mile to construct. In the ever-privatizing public lands, existing trails fall to the shortening seasons of limited budgets and personnel. Our intrepid team hacked at hills and knocked down dead trees with pickaxes and McLeod rakes. We piled rocks, heaved logs, and stroked saws to and fro, shearing shrubs and rerouting creek crossings under sprawling sycamores and willows. We were reestablishing a former wagon trail lost to decades of overgrowth. The work reopened the way for wilderness wayfarers who, for years, had to wander aimlessly along the river. It’s hard work but rewarding.

Time Away from Time: No phones, no worries. Miles from the nearest road, we were secure from the outside world. Down there, you can taste timelessness. It blows past the old Montgomery homesteads and through the sycamore leaves, in frog serenades and floodplain debris. LPFA work rewards not only present but also future generations and future hikers, reclaiming routes the past has swallowed. It’s a small way of doing something bigger than yourself; the sort of trip that will give not just you but many others memories for years.


More stories from our 2018 Blue & Green issue can be found here.


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