“Everything you see here was part of one big rock,” explained trail wizard Ray Ford last Saturday, pointing to a scatter of broken-up sandstone. He and volunteers Kalon Kelley and Rich Scholl were working with a hand-cranked winch and titanium rod to slide a boulder to the side of the new trail on Baron Ranch, where views of the three big Channel Islands were crystal clear, interrupted only occasionally by the swoop of a hawk or teetering of a vulture.
The morning effort of clearing this landslide zone located about 1,200 feet above sea level was just one of numerous tasks for the day, and just a fraction of the time and energy required to open this trail, which is the first new public trail opened on the Gaviota Coast in decades. And there’s already talk of connecting this trail — which is actually mostly an unpaved road that winds through a working avocado and cherimoya ranch, save for the upper six-tenths of a mile — with West Camino Cielo on the ridgeline far above.
The County of Santa Barbara celebrated the occasion — which marked an idea 10 years in the making and relied upon a $40,000 grant from the Goleta Valley Land Trust plus another $10,000-plus of volunteer work — with a ribbon-cutting on Monday at the trailhead, which is right off Highway 101 about two miles past Refugio Beach. “Isn’t this just a glorious spot?” asked the county’s 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, after being introduced by County Parks’ Erik Axelson. “The ribbon cutting today demonstrates how much we have to celebrate in Santa Barbara County.”
Also in attendance were Marc Chytilo, representing the Goleta Valley Land Trust; Richard Rozelle, the district superintendent for State Parks in the region; and Vie Obern, a lifelong trails advocate who first envisioned this trail years ago when she still was an avid hiker and horse rider. After being ceremoniously helped through the trail’s entrance, Obern went to rest in her car, remarking on the event, “It takes a long time for anything to happen!” The trail officially opens to the public this Saturday, December 18, and will then be open only on Saturday, Sunday, and Mondays, from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Technically operated by the county’s Public Works Department, Baron (pronounced “Barone”) Ranch is adjacent to the Tajuguas Landfill and was purchased to be a buffer between the dump and other properties. The landfill’s recent expansion project is further being mitigated by environmental restoration work on the Baron property, specifically the plantings of native species near the start of the trail and work in the creek zone to help the endangered red-legged frogs that were displaced from the landfill. It also means that dogs aren’t currently allowed on the trail, and probably will never be. For equestrians and bicyclists, however, there may be a possibility of opening the trail to their use in the future, if all goes well with the hiking-only program.
Another future possibility is connecting the trail to West Camino Cielo, the unpaved road that rides the ridgeline atop the Santa Ynez Mountains. That link would put into play a number of other hiking routes, and make the Baron Ranch Trail part of a much bigger system of front-country and backcountry trails. For longtime trail users like Ray Ford, who’s been an integral force in any trail work in southern Santa Barbara County for decades, the idea of a broader Gaviota Coast trail network is thrilling.
“It’s truly wild country compared to the mountains immediately behind Santa Barbara,” said Ford, noting that there’s an effort underway to even make parts of the U.S. Forest Service land between Goleta and Gaviota into a wilderness area. “The opportunities have always been there from a theoretical standpoint, but this is the first time there’s an actual possibility to work with State Parks, the Forest Service, and the County Parks to make that a reality.”