Nostalgia for the Live Oak Trails we are in danger of losing

By Pat Fish

This blog is meant to be a testimony to the pleasure of four-legged exploration in the front country trails of our marvelous region. But now access to the best of the local trail systems, the ONLY exclusively equestrian area, is being “modified” to become multi-use. I drew the logo above to publicize the effort to stop this change.

That tiny red area is all we have that is exclusively equestrian. We are not greedy, we just don’t want the trails, which have been set aside for us since Lake Cachuma was first created in 1953, to be ruined by hikers, with off leash dogs, and bicycle riders careening at high speed down the trails.

Today the MeetUp had 9 riders and we took a leisurely stroll in the beautiful weather. We traveled through a variety of riparian and chaparral zones, as the map shows, both wooded and open spaces.

Truthfully we were on the trail 3 hours, because it was nice to stop, give the animals a rest, and appreciate the views.

HOWEVER the day did not start out all that well.

As I entered the equestrian parking area I immediately saw a group of people with a large German Shepherd walking through the grass. Not only hikers (currently still forbidden) but with a dog (always verboten.) 

I told them it was illegal to be hiking there, and they said they had special permission, that they were training a Search and Rescue dog.

Of course I called the Rangers, who said they knew nothing about these people, and came out to talk to them. Eventually they were told to use the upper Campground area and not the trails or the equestrian area. 

Then the Ranger told me that hiker access has been put off until May, and encouraged me to continue to lobby against opening up the trails. The Rangers don’t want the extra work that conflicts will bring, and I also spoke with the Camp Host who was in a tizzy about having to add picking up trash to his care taking duties. Currently you can ride for hours here and NEVER see any trash. The Host told me the total amount of trash he currently picks up will be 3-4 water bottles per YEAR, ones that may have fallen unnoticed out of a saddle bag.

So, we parked and I began greeting my pals in the MeetUp and we all saddled up. But then just as we started for the trail head.

We saw this woman with two little kids heading out on the trail. We called to her, saying it was illegal, and again, of course, she said she was special and had permission from the Rangers.
And here we go, calling the Rangers to come back again.

She took the kids down to the Santa Ynez River at the crossing, where they proceeded to squeal and splash about.

Not really safe with a large number of horses coming through.

And she was adamant that she was special, the Rangers would let her stay.

This is exactly what we fear will be our every riding experience here if multi-use is enacted.

Not my circus, not my monkeys. We rode on.

But, having called in the troops, I turned around to watch the drama unfold.

The standoff was loud enough for me to overhear. She claimed that because her husband was “on a trail ride here” she had permission to also be on the trails. Uh, no.

Meanwhile, the group was waiting for me up the trail, so it was time to move along.

All the MeetUp rides are a loose confederation of individuals, and I am not a bossy Trail Boss. I only ask that everyone do what they can to help everyone be safe on the trail, and be courteous in the Cowboy Way.

Once we cleared the first hill I turned Tobe to look back at the rigs, and was pleased to see the Rangers were firmly escorting the woman back out, and we hoped she would have a nice afternoon at their trailer waiting for her husband to get back from his ride.

But it is with a sigh that I document these encounters. What has been half a century of trails dedicated for exclusive equestrian use may very soon be like every other trail system, where people stop riding because they no longer feel safe.

But for now, it was a beautiful day and Lake Cachuma was shimmering on the horizon.

Having the lake to navigate around on the many trails adds so much pleasure, and our gentle explorations leave nothing but hoof prints.

Many of the trails here are former ranch roads, kept open for emergency vehicles should there be a need to rescue someone on the property. 

There are single-track rocky spans, but frankly, when Tobe Mule is picking his way through them, or down a steep slope, I’m not taking pictures.

In sections like this I continued my new botanical whim, tossing California poppy seeds into the scruffy margins of the trails. If we get some more rain and the seeds have a chance to sprout before being found by ground squirrels, I look forward to riding here in Springs to come and seeing poppies blooming where they have not been before.

SO many of the oaks are dead now, and the sides of the trails are filled with their fallen limbs.

When I started riding here this tree had a whole section to the left that I had to go around to photograph the lake from this vantage point. Oaks have a way of “sacrificing” limbs to preserve the whole. We see it everywhere here.

Another view, another shimmer on the horizon.

There are fences that prevent us actually going to the edge of the lake, which is at best tenuous anyway since the margins recede in drought times leaving expanses of mud.

I think what I like best is the feeling that after so many indoor days spent typing away at a computer or working doing tattoos at my studio THIS awaits. The horizon, the sense of landscape untraveled, that my marvelous four legged gives me access to.

Funny thing about riding a mule or horse, how relaxing it is while at the same time you are always vigilant and alert. Obviously the equine is doing the hard work, and it is amazing that they do it so willingly.

Here we are looking toward home, at the seaside, on the other side of the coastal mountain range. But for just these few hours we are in country.

This mud flat used to be a finger of the lake, back a decade or more ago when I began to ride here. And with rainfall it will fill again.

But it was time to turn back, so we retraced our steps across the flat land.

Here we were almost at lake level, catching glimpses of boats and the pontoons that section off the shallows.

One last look out to the inland mountain ranges, trails for more ambitious days.

And the pleasure of crossing the river and cooling the animals’ feet before we all enjoy a lunch together under the oaks in the parking area.

We vow to do what we can to preserve the dreamlike quality of these trails.


Written by Lucky 777

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  1. “The Rangers don’t want the extra work that conflicts will bring”. It sounds like the easiest way to reduce the rangers’ workloads is for you to stop complaining to them about stupid stuff like a mom and her kids playing in the river.

  2. I’m going to use the “OMG” for you Mr. or Mrs. Fish. I do like your last name…a lot. Your disdain for anyone other than yourself and your friends’ mules/horses (which are certainly if not directly pooping in the watershed in which we all drink from…ahem) is very blatant. Let’s, shall we, start we the very title of your diatribe – “nostalgia and for the live oak trails WE in in danger of losing”. Your version of “we” is simply those very very few who have horses and want to trail ride through the santa ynez watershed, apparently IN THE WATER should you wish. Hint: WE, meaning all of Santa Barbara has to drink that water. I’ll translate – you personally don’t want others on what you consider to be YOUR trails. Am I wrong? You took the time to confront others and try and bring on a park ranger to hassle the people with a dog and a family trying to enjoy the outdoors. And the new you,called them a circus and monkeys??
    I rest my case. And I do hope you realize a lot of others deserve access to those places at we all deserve and support, not just you and your horse/mule buddies. It’s not your private estate Fish.

  3. I don’t always agree with Pat’s diatribes (e.g. I was disappointed that she complained about a green but pesticide-laden, water gulping golf course being converted to a rich natural wetland habitat, restored at UCSB’s North Campus Open Space, an amazing accomplishment!)– but in this case, I gotta say I completely support her view: it’s absolutely appropriate and desirable that one single trail be dedicated solely for equestrian use undisturbed by hikers and dogs. The rest of us have a myriad of other perfectly fine trails that we can hike or bike freely without distressing riders and their mounts. Go Pat!

  4. I know nothing about this beyond what Ms Fish presents here. I also didn’t care for her attitude in the post that Artemisia mentions above. But it seems to me that we can afford to keep one trail for equine travel only. Why make the horses and mules deal with dogs and children? Aren’t there enough other places for non-horsey recreation?

  5. So few folks have horses, but all of us have legs. So why limit a popular area trails to a group of rich entitled people with animals to ride? We have to put up with her horse crap on the hiking trails she likes to pollute, so can’t she put up with a little crap from us?

  6. Seems the area of the Live Oaks Trail is big enough to add new trails for hikers and bikers. Just find some old cattle paths or old Chumash trails. And make
    the routes more challenging than those for ranch vehicles and horses or mules.
    And i now know why horse and mule riding is so popular: only the horse gets its feet wet in the stream or creek. Plus the rider can avoid exercising. Also the
    horse can carry more weight than a hiker or the homeless campers.
    And once people are allowed, the Handicap Laws kick in. Or trails will need to
    be paved and hand rails added? Plus some schools will schedule student outings to see the snakes and birds.
    Then Rangers should paint the trails green so they are easy to follow. And
    add some signage too.

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