By Raiza Giorgi
The decision to open the Live Oak Camp trail to hikers in 2021, was a bit of a shock to the equestrian community as they said there was little to no notice of this change and they were not offered any opportunity to comment.
“Thankfully, Supervisor Joan Hartmann is working with us to get our concerns to the county because we just want to be a part of the process,” said Kathy Rosenthal, president of the Santa Ynez Valley Riders (SYVR). “We know it’s not unheard of for equestrian and hikers to share trails, but this trail has been equestrian only for decades and it’s the only area with adequate parking for our trailers and the nicest place in the whole county to ride.”
The Live Oak trail is located in the San Raphael mountains off Highway 154 just south of Lake Cachuma. Since the trail’s dedication in 1988, it has only been for equestrian use until this year when the county started its pilot program to open more places for recreation opportunities.
The SYVR is one of the oldest equestrian groups in the valley, having formed in 1944 and one of its members, the late Bob Crowe, was instrumental in securing the Live Oak trails for equestrian riders. Recently his widow, Donna Crowe, gave all the documentation of that process and the original maps of the trail system to SYVR, Rosenthal added.
“Through Bob’s work, the Live Oak Trail was established by the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors as the Cachuma Equestrian Trail in 1988,” Rosenthal said.
Crowe became president of the Santa Barbara Trails Council that worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and Santa Barbara County to accomplish all relevant environmental studies, develop a Management Plan and fund and install the gates and a kiosk at the trailhead.
Rosenthal said their group was never notified about the change of use and allowed time to review the pilot program or send in their comments and concerns. They only found out about it because their sign at the trailhead was removed and when she called to inquire about replacing it when she was informed of the pilot program.
“Over the next year and a half, Santa Barbara County Parks is planning to introduce hiking, then explore biking on the Live Oak trails as part of an effort to expand recreational opportunities countywide,” wrote Jon Menzies of County Parks in a letter to SYVR.
Hartmann told the Star she has received many calls and email from equestrians and she finds their concerns about safety well-founded and has passed them to County Park staff.
“Live Oak does offer an opportunity to expand the trail network, which would benefit all trail users and expand recreational opportunities,” she said. “Any potential changes or expansions are part of a pilot program and at the conclusion of the pilot program, a full trail management plan specific to the Live Oak trails will be developed using the lessons learned and considering feedback from all parties. I will endeavor to ensure that the concerns that I’ve heard will be addressed.”
The SYVR is asking the county to create a Trails System Management Plan before any type of new trail users are added, as impacts could be major as future demand grows.
Rosenthal contends that while unique, the Live Oak trail should be the gold-standard the county strives for in multi-use trail design. Rosenthal added the county needs to create a a Live Oak Trail Management Plan Working Group consisting of the county and all the equestrian groups that use the trail; accomplish environmental reviews for the Pilot as proposed under CEQA and include public input and review and create a foundation of the Live Oak trail.
“Many of the amenities at the Live Oak trailhead; its remoteness, safety and ridable trails allow equestrians to enjoy not only the historic California Oak Woodland and grassland environments but also provides a time with our horses without harassment from other users,” Rosenthal states in her letter. “Having a safe environment to ride and enjoy the area is a huge draw to the Live Oak Equestrian Trail for equestrians.”
County Parks said its staff intends to evaluate the needs of the various trail groups, make improvements to the Live Oak trail system for all users, establish clear rules for trail use, and identify opportunities for unique trail experiences.
“Parks staff is aware of the concern about conflicts between different trail user groups,” Menzies added. “The terrain around the Live Oak area is generally open with few steep areas and long-established routes along existing ranch roads where these types of conflicts can be minimized or eliminated with good trail management and user compliance.”
To read more about the concerns from SYVR visit https://www.santaynezvalleyriders.org/trail-advocacy and to express concerns or input to the county email email@example.com.