Task Force Begins User Group Presentations

The Front Country Trails Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force heard an extensive report on trail conditions and the first of two presentations by user groups at its April 4 meeting. The meeting was led by Task Force vice-chair Suzanne Perkins, in place of the chairman, Steve Forsell, who was not present.

One of the first public speakers was Montecito resident Stephen Dougherty, who said he was bothered because in spite of staff’s indication at last month’s meeting that safety would be included as a topic, the word still didn’t appear on the meeting’s agenda.

“I don’t think any of us have any intention to let safety take a back seat,” said Perkins, indicating that this would become a primary issue as the hearings unfold.

The task force heard a report on existing trail conditions, maintenance and current funding, compiled by Kathy Frye, natural areas planner for the City of Santa Barbara, Kerry Kellogg, recreation specialist for Los Padres National Forest, and Claude Garciacelay, a County Parks planner. Their report indicated that the U.S. Forest Service had suffered a significant loss in funding, forcing limited resources to be severely stretched.

Garciacelay noted the important role played by the Montecito Trails Foundation for the maintenance work it provides through paid trail crew members, as “there is no regular allocation from the County.”

Kellogg reiterated the value of the Montecito Trails Foundation, which also provides maintenance for trails under the bailiwick of the U.S. Forest Service.

The only local trail system that is regularly provided for is Parma Park, which has six miles of trails within about 200 acres. The Parma Trust endowment generates funds to provide ongoing maintenance.

Speaking on the trails maintenance issue after the staff presentation, Sierra Club Trail Chairman Jim Childress read the following excerpt from the book “Santa Barbara Mountain Biking,” by Ray Ford: “Bicycles cause much more damage than hikers or horseback riders do. While horses can cause a lot of damage, there isn’t that much equestrian use of the trails. Hikers do cause damage, but not nearly as much as the bike rider who rides fast and then skids to a slower speed or locks the brakes to slide around a switchback. Speed is a killer, certainly of the trails, and potentially of other trail users.”

“For some reason, a lot of mountain bikers do not want to take any blame for trail damage,” Childress continued from Ford’s book. “This could be because they feel defensive about this issue and don’t want to say anything they think can be used against them. However, walking up any of the front country trails provides evidence of the damage: deep, narrow ruts where the bikers have skidded down steep sections, whoopdedoos, and loss of the outside edges of curves.”

Another presenter was Ray Ford, who was speaking as Treasurer of Los Padres Forest Association. Started in the 1970s as an interpretive association, the group’s president is Jason Beckstrand, a Santa Barbara engineer.

“We have much more of a focus on the back country than the front country,” Ford said. “We’re not an advocacy group. Pretty much what the Forest Service policies are, is what our policies are.”

Chris Orr, president of Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers, which was formed in 1990 and has an average annual budget of $1,000, gave the next presentation. Orr said his group averages 2,000 volunteer maintenance hours yearly, through its trail workdays that are held once a month from February through November. Anywhere from five to 25 volunteers might turn out for the work sessions.

Going through a list of notable trail events, Orr said, “in 2005 we had the unfortunate Rocket accident,” without noting this was a horse that was killed when it was frightened over the edge of Cold Spring Trail by mountain bikers, a watershed event that prompted the formation of the task force.

“In 2000, there was a jump in bike technology which allowed bikes to go faster, resulting in more user conflicts,” Orr continued. “It was this situation which brought about the ‘bell program’ (on bikes’ handlebars) in an effort to reduce the surprise factor.”

In 2001, the International Mountain Bike Association held an “Epic Ride” in Santa Barbara, attracting 60 bikers from all over California.

“Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers’ part was to open thirty-six miles of back country trails, done over eight maintenance days with a small but dedicated crew,” Orr said.

Orr’s mention of this effort again brings up the possibility of shifting mountain bike usage to back country trails, which can still be accessed by cars at the top for drop-off and the bottom for pick-up. Many hikers and equestrians favor this solution because they feel this would remove user conflict issues from the urban front country trails that are used heavily by families.

When the task force process was started, it was announced that each user group would be given 10 minutes to make a presentation. Because Orr was allowed to speak on behalf of the mountain bike group for 45 minutes, the task force agreed that in the interest of fairness, it would allow future groups the same amount of presentation time.

After Orr’s presentation, Tony Biegen, Sierra Club outings chairman, told the task force, “There needs to be some oversight as to the work that’s done. Some of the work on the Jesusita Trail was not done within the easements, and some trail work in Elings Park was performed by mountain bikers over [designated] Sierra Club hiking trails.”

The public is invited to attend the task force’s next meeting, on Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 pm, in City Council Chambers, 735 Anacapa Street.

Mark Your Calendar

Sunday, April 29

Vivan Los Californios

Barbecue Fiesta for

Wildling Art Museum

See what life might have been like 100 years ago on one of the Spanish land-grant ranches at this annual benefit. This year the Fiesta will be held at Rancho Tinaquaic, off the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in the Santa Ynez Valley. Now owned by vintner Dick Dore, Carol Dore Hawkins and John and Eleanor Wickenden, this rancho was originally owned by Benjamin William “Don Julian” Foxen, a former sea captain whose family was implicated in Frémont’s capture of Santa Barbara for the United States in 1846. Tickets for the event are $125 per person, and include an optional pre-barbecue nature walk led by Kate McCurdy, director of the University of California’s Sedgwick Reserve. Advance reservations required.

For tickets call 688-1082, or visit www.wildlingmuseum.org.