CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE WHEELED KIND

Recent reports of close encounters between mountain bikers and traditional trail users are reminders that safety is still an issue that has yet to be resolved on our front country trails.

Mule Over the Edge

An accident occurred earlier this summer, when well-known mule aficionado Otis Calef was riding one of his mules up Little Pine Trail. Calef says the crash happened near the “dog grave meadow,” where the trail narrows and has blind curves and drop-offs. A mountain biker came up suddenly over a rise without warning, and spooked Calef’s mule. Calef was thrown when the mule went over the edge, but the animal was able to regain its footing and struggle back up onto the trail before tumbling farther down.

Calef, who is scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 33 and has served as the ride chairman for Los Padres Trail Riders, says he no longer wants to risk that section of trail. An experienced equestrian, Calef has even finished the Tevis Cup, a grueling endurance race in which horse and rider must complete a 100-mile course within 24 hours.

It’s ironic that Calef should be the latest equestrian displaced from a local trail, as he is well known to the mountain bike community through his extensive work with the Trails Alliance and Los Padres Forest Association. Calef has often packed in equipment and supplies on his mules to help with trail building and maintenance.

Baby Nearly Hit on Trail

Montecito resident Suzanne Dougherty reports another close call that took place at the end of June. She and her sister-in-law took their two children, ages 6 and 10, for a short hike up Cold Springs Trail. They hiked as far as the bench, and then stood by while their children played in the creek. Two other women appeared, one of whom was carrying an infant in a front pack.

Dougherty says just as the unidentified mother stepped off the trail toward the bench, a mountain biker wearing full body armor “came shooting onto the path right where she’d stood moments before with her baby.”

The biker had no warning bell, says Dougherty, and was immediately followed by two more fully armored mountain bikers who also didn’t have any bells.

“She [the mother] was white as a ghost, as were all of us watching,” Dougherty says. “Her baby would never have survived the crash. It was pure luck she had stepped off the trail toward the bench.”

Where’s the Committee?

In April, the County and City Parks Commissions and the U.S. Forest Service held a joint hearing on trail use. Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians, many of whom gave impassioned testimony as to their experiences on the trail, packed the room.

The main outcome of that meeting was the decision to form an ad hoc committee to examine trail use and safety issues, and to then make recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors as to how the solutions may be effected.

It was decided that the County and City should each select two representatives to serve on the committee, along with various community members. Since the April 6 meeting, the selection of these four individuals is the only progress that has been made.

From the County Parks Commission, the two representatives will be Suzanne Perkins, who represents the First District, and James Hickling, who represents the Third District. From the City Parks and Recreation Commission, the two representatives will be Beebe Longstreet and Steve Forsell. No one has yet addressed what will happen when Longstreet’s term ends in December. Judging by the glacial pace at which this committee is being formed, it’s clear that the panel will be meeting well into next year.

Many people are wondering when and how the other committee members will be chosen. Longtime County Parks planner Claude Garciacelay announced at a County Parks Commission meeting over the summer that “staff is working on proposals for the procedures,” and hopes to have them ready for the commissioners to consider in September.

Since Garciacelay made that announcement, Allyson Biskner, a City staff member who regularly interacted with various trail user groups, has resigned. Whether her departure will further slow the process remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the close encounters continue.

Cowboy Lecture Series

The Carriage and Western Art Museum, located in Pershing Park behind the baseball diamond, is offering a three-part educational program billed as “The Influence of the Cowboy on American Culture.”

The series, which takes place August 31, September 14 and September 21, will be led by Doris Doran, who teaches a class at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria entitled “Literature of the American Cowboy.”

The first program will focus on “The History of the American Cowboy.” Topics include his “arrival,” his horses and cattle, tack and equipment, trails used, and problems encountered with his “evolution.”

Tickets can be obtained at the door for $25 per lecture, or the entire series can be purchased at the discounted price of $60. Each program starts at 7 pm, and includes light appetizers. For more information contact Don Dawson at 965-4436.

Mark Your Calendar

Thursday, September 7

Deadline for advance tickets at reduced cost for Montecito Trails Foundation annual Fall BBQ, taking place on Saturday, September 16. Hosted by Hal and Mary Coffin at their Montecito Valley Ranch, the event includes a hike, horseback ride or bike ride at 9 am, followed by 1 pm lunch, silent auction and music by Steve Woods. Tickets are $30 for member adults, $12 for member children under 12. Price for non-member adults is $50 (includes event and membership), $15 for non-member children. For lunch and activity reservations call 568-0833. For more information visit www.montecitotrailsfoundation.org.