In Anticipation of Trails Day, the First Woman-Led Trail Maintenance Group Adopts the Historic Live Oak Equestrian Trail

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Source: Santa Ynez Valley Riders

In a first for Santa Barbara County trails, a group of women equestrian trail riders, members of the Santa Ynez Valley Riders and Live Oak Trail Patrol, met on Tuesday, just prior to Trails Day, to reduce weeds in the vicinity of the Live Oak Trailhead kiosk and clear brush along the entry trail.

The group uses a new approach to trail maintenance, with various assignments that provide volunteers of all ages, skills and abilities to participate. Timing of trail maintenance days considers the most advantageous time to do the work, and to remove invasive weeds before they set seed thus avoiding the proliferation of millions of new weedy plants the following year – in other words, to plan ahead.

“We are gentle with ourselves and listen to the land. Too many traditional trail maintenance techniques disturb the soil and surrounding vegetation to the extent that natural features such as rocks, bushes and small trees are removed creating what are becoming wide freeways through our forests, woodlands, and grasslands rather than trails. The wider, flatter trails and their repetitive maintenance requirements are easily eroded and become magnets for invasive weeds.” commented Kathy Rosenthal, the group’s organizer.

Instead of the usual “blow and go” method, the group does a little bit of trail work at a time, usually 1-2 hours in the cool, early morning hours when it is exceptionally beautiful at the trailhead. It works better for the volunteers and is less disruptive to neighboring wildlife. Keeping the work footprint small and focused also allows the group to do quality work, minimally disturbing the area surrounding the trail. 

Equestrian trail riders have ridden Live Oak Trail for the last 30 years and it was part of the Rancho San Marcos for hundreds of years before that. In all that time, very few incidents requiring trail maintenance occurred. Opening the trail last year to hikers has presented a new set of challenges that the County Parks Division was not prepared to take on. This group will fill that void and restore the historic trail for what hiking and equestrian riding enthusiasts look for in this wild and remote area: to safely enjoy the peace and beauty of nature. 

Live Oak Trail is open to equestrians and hikers. Bicycles, motor vehicles, or dogs (on or off leash) are not allowed. A $10 per car day use fee is required (and remember to bring exact change). Be sure and carry plenty of water as shade trees have recently been blocked off and are excluded from the public’s use. Temperatures can be extreme. Please obey all trail rules, be courteous, and respectfully enjoy this special place.

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