The McMenemy Trail in the Montecito foothills was the focus of an event on National Public Lands Day, during which about 20 people worked hard in September 24’s 80-degree-plus temperatures. This was one of three opportunities for volunteer trail work that are presented every year across the Santa Barbara front country. Each of these events consist of a variety of trail maintenance projects, which include cutting back brush and low hanging tree branches, erosion prevention in the form of improved water drainage and rut filling, widening narrow trail sections, and blocking illegal trails/shortcut switchbacks.
The work that hot day in September had all the typical maintenance components, including spending a good portion of the time spent blocking the “shortcut” switchbacks on McMenemy Trail, which have been the subject of controversy lately. A “cut” switchback is when a trail user veers off the designated trail and ventures up the steep hillside between trail sections to avoid walking the trails path. This could lead to increased erosion and degradation of the overall trail.
Blocking a “shortcut” switchback involves not only physically blocking the switchbacks themselves but upending or tilling the soil to enable vegetation regrowth and discourage people from passing. The bigger the better when it comes to blocking switchback cuts, as larger tree limbs tend to stop passage and keep users on track better than small sticks.
More work remains to be done on this McMenemy Trail in order to cease “short cutting” or illegal trail usage, but a good start was made. Along the way, the group learned about trail etiquette and techniques to keep trail users on the desired path. Future work in the form of tilling the illegal trail cuts and placing large branches and trunks will be occurring in the near future.
While shortcutting is a common problem on most trails along the Front Country and is strongly discouraged, many trail users are unaware of it being an illegal activity or the subsequent erosion damage it can cause. Additionally in the case of McMenemy Trail, most trail users are unaware that “cutting” of these switchbacks is one of the reasons some trail organizations are currently pushing to have this portion or trail relocated (the other reason is that a neighbor desires the trail farther away from his home). A citation or fine can be issued to a hiker who “cuts” across a switchback on most National Forest system trails.