Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too title=
From Chalk Hill
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By Ronald Williams

In the December 27 Edhat Santa Barbara article, "WINTER SOLSTICE VICTORY RIDE AT LIVE OAK," Pat Fish writes, "We eagerly await things going to back the way they had been for 40 years, with a gate code, purchasing passes, and security on the trails." She then quotes the Nick Welsh Indy article that summarized Judge Anderle's decision to reject "Efforts by the Santa Barbara County supervisors to allow hikers, joggers, dogs and cyclists to co-exist with horseback riders for the first time on The Live Oak Trail."

Then she describes her equestrian ride while imagining how a small boy who got off his horse to walk could have been endangered by a bicyclist: "Now, imagine a mountain biker with headphones in their ears blasting death metal careening at top speed around that corner, potentially spooking the horses and running over the boy. It is to prevent such dangerous 'conflicts among trail users' that a very persistent group of us have been giving testimony at zoom meetings and in person. And for now, we have success."

I agree with Pat that bicyclists should be prohibited from Live Oak Trails — that is the case at the present time. Since April 2021, however, both pedestrians and equestrians have been allowed to use the trails. As a result, for the first time, contemporary walkers have found a landscape that is stunning and unique. It is grand scenery, far away from the sounds of human activity. During my rambles there I imagined myself to be immersed in an unblemished California venue during the age of the ranchos and vaqueros. Magnificent valley oaks graced the potreros, leaving space for sweeping panoramas of nearby mountain ranges. From the top of Chalk Hill, I had a 360-degree view starting with the Santa Ynez Range to the south, the San Rafael to the north, the Santa Ynez River watershed to the east, while in the west were the blue-green waters of Lake Cachuma.

In Santa Barbara County it is rare these days to be amidst open spaces without development. While the land is being lightly grazed it still gives the appearance of a gentle wilderness. I have now hiked all of the Live Oak trails and encountered many friendly equestrians. We easily accommodated each since, in most places, they are unimproved roads. The only exception I saw was a group of riders who were galloping in the Santa Ynez River — a questionable practice since it supplies much of our water. I rarely saw other walkers, but when I did, I found that they were mainly bird watchers and naturalists. I observed no conflicts among trail users. All the gates I encountered were closed properly. They had labels placed there by the Santa Barbara Trails Council, indicating support from equestrians. 

I agree with Pat that slow is good when she wrote, "As we slowly move by at 2.3mph the calm expanse of landscape leading up to the horizon refreshes the soul." But, in my opinion, it could be just as inspiring to dismount, slow down even more, and behold the wonders closer to the ground. That is the perspective enjoyed by walkers. Among the flora I saw were California wild rose, Chinese houses, Clarkia, clustered tarweed, coast morning glory, datura, hummingbird and purple sages, Indian milkweed and paintbrush, larkspur, mariposa lily, monkey flower, purple nightshade, yerba santa, vetch, winecup Clarkia, western vervain, yarrow, and yucca. There were even a few fairy lanterns and an owl’s clover. Frequently the sides of the trail were decorated by hundreds of lavender Clarkia bottae blossoms.

Fauna was also evident. Most abundant were ground squirrels, but I also saw butterflies, deer, and a couple of snakes. Flying overhead were red-tailed hawks, swallows, and turkey vultures. Lower down were acorn woodpeckers, magpies, a western bluebird, quail, and wild turkeys with their chicks scurrying behind. There appears to be a resident group of nine free range horses. 

At the present time only walkers and riders are permitted with bicycles and dogs prohibited. In my opinion, that policy should remain in effect for the indefinite future. That way, Santa Barbara County residents would be able to continue to experience this unblemished resource that wise land use managers have bestowed upon us. Pat, I hope I can meet you on the trail sometime and exchange ideas. If so, perhaps you can explain why you think there is a conflict between us. Also, as to why you believe it would be beneficial to the landscape, flora, and fauna of the Live Oak Trails if they were to "... become a world-class attraction bringing horse and mule riders from all over."

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CanyonKid Dec 28, 2022 11:06 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

"Now, imagine a mountain biker with headphones in their ears blasting death metal careening at top speed around that corner, potentially spooking the horses and running over the boy."

I've been riding mtn bikes for a long time. NEVER have I heard of anyone riding with headphones in, let along blasting death metal. Comments like these, will always make me laugh.

EastBeach Dec 28, 2022 07:19 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Canyon - Your post motivated me to read Pat's post. I had a similar reaction.

Been riding the local front and back country for decades now and for the most part riders I'm with or seen were responsible/safe trail users. That said, I recall when the MTBR forum was making a big deal about SB trails 20 years ago and tons of riders were driving up from LA and OC to hit our trails (especially Tunnel, Cold Spring, an Little Pine). Some of them were pretty reckless but it's calmed down since.

I really can't see making a case to a land use manager that hikers should be excluded from Live Oak especially when the potential population of hikers has got to be much larger than the equestrian population. Making decisions based on exceptions (e.g. Pat's deer hunter claim) isn't a good idea in my mind.

T J Dec 29, 2022 09:14 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

As a 35 year resident of SYV and avid hiker and mountain biker I've seen and experienced many trail interactions. Most have been pleasant, and the few that have not been, are usually with folks who feel entitled and have pre-conceived ideas. I can understand the desire to keep Live Oak bike free, but the day when bikes are allowed will come. Perhaps a system can be created where bikes are allowed a couple of days a week. Might work.

It would be great for the equestrians to join in and help maintain the trails. For years, it's been the members of the mtb and hiker communities who have done the majority of the work.

And please equestrians, do not ride when the ground is still wet. Your steeds punch holes in the trails that ruin them for everyone.

As to the headphones, death metal thing, please. That's just silly.

Thomas John Dec 28, 2022 05:19 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

I feel what Ronald Williams is getting at and although I don't agree with 100% I could get on board with allowing horse and hikers to have their own special place. But the 'story' by Pat Fish reeks of entitled horse people. And her "Now, imagine a mountain biker with headphones in their ears blasting death metal careening at top speed around that corner" just makes my knee jerk in opposition to her horse-only club. She's so out of touch...... Equestrians - find a new spokesperson. I've hiked and biked all sorts of trails that were water damaged by horses out in the mud leaving season-long post holes - and I haven't seen one horse out carrying any sort of trail-building equipment in years.

a-1672282108 Dec 28, 2022 06:48 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Unleashed dogs are the real danger on the trails. Equestrians, hikers and bikers should be on the same side to banish that menace to trail users and to the natural ecosystem.

Chainsaw Don Dec 29, 2022 07:06 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

I recall the conflicts on the front country trails between equestrians and the mountain bikes. I recall at least one incident where a mountain bike ran into a horse and the horse went off the trail and died. It was a terrible situation. These incidents happened over and over. At one time San Ysidero Ranch had a bunch of trail horses that their guests could rent and go on trail rides. Not any more. I don’t think people trail ride locally any more. To dangerous.

Thomas John Dec 29, 2022 08:46 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Don, I've biked on certain trails in the Tahoe area and near Denver where they had a system like - odd days for bikes, even for equestrians - and it seemed to be working pretty well.

fitz Dec 29, 2022 07:44 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Big problem with mountain bikers and the occasional electric version in the open space in our community. The management plan explains in great detail (over 200 pages) why bikes are not allowed in the reserve. Hikers and walkers, fine. dogs on a leash, fine. Bikes carry in the seeds of invasive plants and they disrupt some of the species we are trying to save. Signs clearly state no biking. (No horses either for the same reason).

Thomas John Dec 29, 2022 02:43 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Fitz - I'm open to a horse and hiker-only place. But can you tell me how do bikes carry the seeds of invasive plants - and horses do not? My bike eats invasive plants and craps them out 10 miles up the trail? Oh, no, that's the horse. Or the mud stuck on my bike that might contain seeds - doesn't stick to a horse? Or stick in the lugs of boots?

Lucky 777 Dec 29, 2022 09:29 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

I was looking forward to seeing the push back to my trail blog. In the year that hikers have been allowed on the Live Oak trails I have personally enjoyed the encounters, taking time to help people understand how best to share the trail so as not to spook horses. *And by the way, the author of this op-ed says "There appears to be a resident group of nine free range horses." and I'm surprised if he has "hiked every trail" as he claims that he doesn't realize that there are quite a few cattle, and a large herd of dozens of bucking horses who graze the property and breed there and are used in rodeos and then returned to their home. They graze down the grasses and help lower fire danger. THE ISSUE about access now is that the original covenant established this as equestrian only. There is a government process that would need to be followed to change that, with a full Environmental Impact Report. That process was not followed, the access system of the locked gate and permits and equestrians only was abruptly changed with the "Pilot Program" and since then hikers have been on the trails. IF, after a thorough study of the impact of increased use has been conducted, and public input recorded and concerns addressed, if it is decided to allow hikers then so be it. I'll be fine with that. But the pressure is to allow bicycles, and in order to make any changes in use the proper procedure needs to be followed. I am completely opposed to bikes on the trails, as it would pose a threat to the safe use by others. I also oppose dogs, because people let them go off leash and impact wildlife. But hey, I'm an "entitled horse people" and I stand firm with my opinion that all the other local trails are available to hikers and bikes, so it is fair that this one small section of trails stay the way it was intended.

StargazerRon Dec 30, 2022 10:42 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

To Pat Fish (aka Lucky 777): I can assure you that I have hiked all the Live Oak Trails as posted on the map at the entrance kiosk. Here is a map showing the locations of some of my rambles:
Click on a map tag for a photo from that location.

As per your "push back," perhaps there are "dozens of bucking horses," but I have only seen nine. I did, however, see a small group of yearling steers who approached me curiously, seemingly unfamiliar with humans on foot. I later encountered a rancher on an ATV who told me that they belonged to him and had somehow escaped through his fencing. In any case, I stick to my observation that the landscape is only lightly grazed and I agree with you that it is a benefit.

Yes, "THE ISSUE" is related to exclusive equestrian use. I was pleased to hear that you possibly "... will be fine ..." if hikers are allowed on the Live Oak trails, as is presently the case. I, too, believe that bicycles and dogs should continue to be strictly prohibited. In my opinion that policy could be administered more effectively if both equestrians and pedestrians use the trails. I say that because, with more eyes to observe, any bad actors would be more likely to be detected. In my conversations with Lake Cachuma staff I was given a telephone number to call if I observed any bikes or dogs. Since the Broadcast Peak antennae enable cell phone reception just about everywhere on the trails, it would be easy to report any scofflaws. As for hikers using the trails, would the joy they experience negate the pleasure that the trails bestow upon equestrians?

I was also pleased to hear that you have "... personally enjoyed the encounters ..." with hikers. In this context, I remember a sentence in the last paragraph of Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address: "We are not enemies, but friends." And the last phrase of his address: "... the better angels of our nature." I sincerely believe that, by working together, equestrians and pedestrians can help to preserve this beautiful natural resource.

qmc Dec 29, 2022 11:26 AM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Whoever rode with our group of mountain bikers was instructed how to act when approaching horses, which was, come to a complete stop and let the horses go by. On the front range trails of Santa Barbara, we applied the same rules when we came across hikers which often initiated a conversation how thankful they were for us stopping. I've also come across fresh horse damage to a trail back in the 1990s. The beginning section of the Forbush Flat trail where Cold Springs trail tops off was severely damaged by a group of horses (about 8 trailers were parked at the trail head). After that, it became sketchy to pass that section of the trail. Some years later, an attempt was made to fix the damaged part, but the scar still exists. Those equestrians were not good stewards of the trail system.

CreekMoe Dec 29, 2022 01:10 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

Maybe eBikes would be fine for horses. Or eJeeps?

Or eHorses? They would not litter the trails. Do riders carry poop bags? and shovels?

And some dogs are fine off leash. They just need to pass a test - like the horse riders.

And riders should get license plates for the mule tails.

And riders should wear helmuts for safety.

It is not the 1800s any more.

Lina24 Dec 29, 2022 07:01 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

"Now, imagine a mountain biker with headphones in their ears blasting death metal careening at top speed around that corner, potentially spooking the horses and running over the boy."
I can't believe the bias in that statement. That scenario can go both ways. Imagine a father and son riding their bikes and stopping to enjoy the scenery when a galloping horse with the rider wearing earbuds playing Country Western music comes careening around the corner and runs over the boy.
Same applies if the bikers were on horseback.
A runaway or galloping horse regardless of who is on it and what music they're listening to can be very dangerous. At least a bike can't keep going after the rider falls off.

EastBeach Dec 29, 2022 07:54 PM
Op-Ed: Trails Should Be for Hikers Too

A thoughtful post which reminds me ... years ago I was at the bottom of the San Ysidro trail speaking with a horseback rider about the Montecito Trails Foundation and the trail work they sponsor. She told me only well-trained horses who were comfortable encountering hikers and bikers should be allowed on the front country trails. That had not occurred to me before but made sense.

Fast forward to a year or two ago when I read a post by Pat Fish about a horse on one of their group rides. I think that horse was described as "lively" or "energetic" but the point was it was a skittish animal that could be easily spooked.

So I think it's worth noting that not all steeds have the same suitability for trail riding on public lands (just like all hikers or mountain bikers aren't necessarily exemplary trail users). I can imagine owners of skittish animals not suitable for front country trails would really be bummed if they had to share Live Oak with bike riders.

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