We had an uncommonly small class of only 7 on a partly sunny day in Malibu Creek State Park this month at the Basic Skills Clinic. The clinic is always held the first Saturday of the month. You can see the photos in our May photo gallery.
We recently posted a report on the completion of scheduled work on the Ken Burton Trail. On May 1st the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, who partnered with CORBA to restore the trail, held their annual Pancake Breakfast fundraiser at Gould Mesa Campground in the Angeles National Forest. It was perfect timing for all to celebrate the completion of the Ken Burton trail.
While the Pancake Breakfast was an all MWBA event, many CORBA members were also present to enjoy the celebration. Through the wonders of social media, we were able to connect with Ken Burton’s family, many of whom came to the event to celebrate the reopening of their “dad’s trail.” The cermonial ribbon cutting was performed by Jim Burton, Ken’s brother, with Ken’s daughters Heather and Tania, Steve Messer from CORBA, and MWBA’s Jenny Johnson as MC. Heather gave an inspiring speech about her dad, his love of trails, bicycles, and the National Forest where he served as Battallian Chief before being killed by a drunk driver on Angeles Crest Highway in 1988. A moment of silence was observed in honor of Ken Burton before the ribbon was cut.
MWBA thoughtfully honored Steve Messer with a special plaque of appreciation, made in the style of the original Ken Burton trail sign. Volunteers who gave two or more days of volunteer work received a commemorative T-shirt and a certificate of appreciation from the Forest Service. While the project was initiated and led by Steve Messer of CORBA, it was truly a partnership with both CORBA and MWBA volunteers working together to complete the trail restoration project.
It was a great day to celebrate the completion of one trail project, as we prepare to move on to the next project: restoration of the Gabrielino trail from Ken Burton trail junction to Switzers. CORBA has applied for a grant from REI, and will partner with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, Bellfree Contractors, and again, the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association to complete the project.
National Trails day is fast-approaching: June 4, 2016. It’s a day to recognize the important role trails play in many of our lives, and to spread the word about how trails benefit communities, and to encourage more people to venture out onto trails.
Each year there are a number of events planned by land managers around National Trails day. Los Angeles County is promoting an event to bring together all trail users in a Multi-Use Trails Day event. Equestrians, hikers, and mountain bikers will converge on Pathfinder Park in Rowland Heights to learn about trails, trail etiquette, and to enjoy the Schabarum/Skyline Trail. While the main route is about 4 miles, there are several options for longer rides or hikes. The free event will include vendors, lunch, and a raffle including a new mountain bike.
On the other end of CORBA’s territory, the National Park Service will be holding its Centennial celebration. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is currently working on the last two segments of the Backbone trail, a continuous 65 mile route traversing the Santa Monica Mountains. Much of the Backbone is open to bikes. They are working hard to complete the last two segments before the June 4th event, and to submit the Backbone Trail for inclusion in the National Recreation Trail system.
CORBA will be at both events. Watch our Meetup group calendar for more details, and join us at either event to help celebrate the trails that bring us all together.
IMBA is conducting a nationwide member survey. If your membership was current on April 30th, you should have received an email invitation to complete the IMBA Member Survey during the first week of April. Invitations are unique to each member, and the survey can only be taken once. You have the opportunity to save your survey and come back to it. Surveys must be completed by May 17.
Since IMBA reorganized to unite all of California into the same region, we have had the good fortune of working with Laurel Harkness as IMBA’s California/Hawaii Regional Director. However, we face a unique challenge here in Los Angeles. We have the largest population base of any IMBA Chapter, yet one of the smallest Board of Directors, and an disproportionately small membership base. We have a City of Los Angeles blanket ban on bicycles on trails, new and existing Wilderness proposals, and other issues threatening or preventing our access to new trails. We have several opportunities for new trails and bike parks, but are stretched thin on maintaining what we have.
By participating in IMBA’s Survey, you can help inform IMBA of our local needs. Los Angeles is one of the largest and most complex mountain bike advocacy mosaics in the country, and we can use all the help we can get, from our members and supporters, from the local bike industry, and from IMBA.
Meanwhile IMBA’s Spring Membership Drive continues into May, with all those renewing their memberships being eligible for some great prizes. It’s a great time to renew your membership to CORBA/IMBA and help us grow mountain biking opportunities in the area.
The largest trailwork event in the Santa Monica Mountains is held every year at the end of April in Pt. Mugu State Park. This past weekend, volunteers from CORBA, the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council (who organize the event every year), the Sierra Club and others converged on the Danielson campground to help out. Besides trailwork on Saturday and Sunday, the festivities included a barbecue dinner, a huge prize give-away and optional overnight camping.
On Saturday morning, 140 volunteers split up into crews of about 10 and dispersed to various trails. The crew that included most of CORBA’s volunteers shuttled to the top of the Sin Nombre Trail and started the day by cutting back mustard that was crowding the trail. When that was finished, we worked our way south, spending our time fixing deep ruts. That involved cutting down the berm that forms on the outside of the trail and dragging the dirt back into the rut, and also building up the inside of the trail to restore a gentle outslope. The outslope allows water to run off the outside of the trail, rather than running down it and eroding a new rut.
The north end of the Sin Nombre trail is very rocky in sections, so it took a considerable amount of work to restore the trail to it’s original condition.
While the CORBA crew was working southward, two other crews were working north from the bottom of the trail. They also were fixing ruts.
After lunch on the trail, a few from the other crews came up to help the CORBA crew. The extra hands allowed us to finish our work an hour early – the help was very much appreciated! With three crews working, we were able to repair all of the ruts along the length of Sin Nombre that were repairable.
A crew consisting of mostly MBU members and led by Steve Messer, CORBA’s president, worked their way up the Wood Canyon Vista Trail. They started by rebuilding the first very tight switchback which had become rocky and difficult to navigate in recent years. When that was done, they headed up the hill to generally clean out old drains and build new ones where needed.
A journalist from the Ventura County Star accompanied the MBU crew. You can view his photos and video on their website.
Other crews worked on Sage Trail, rebuilding walls and drainages, Old Boney Trail near Sorreno Valley in the Boney Mountain Wilderness Area, and a group of youngsters and their parents cleared brush from the side of the Blue Canyon Trail. Building Bridges to the Outdoors Sierra Club worked on Coyote Trail.
There hasn’t been any rain recently so the dirt was bone-dry and turns to dust when we dig into it. Because of this, it’s not possible to pack it down firmly despite our best efforts. Be careful when riding these newly worked trails – parts of them are pretty loose still!
Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing around camp, chatting with friends and rehydrating, often with light- to dark-brown beverages. Some people went hiking or riding and youngsters helped decorate the desert cakes with colored icing and sprinkles.
The barbecue dinner, cooked and served by Park staff, was fabulous as always – barbecued tri-tip, chicken and veggie burgers along with salad, garlic toast and baked beans. During dinner, Tony Hoffman from State Parks, along with a pair of young volunteers, called ticket numbers for the prize give-away. The very best prizes (tents, sleeping bags and such) were gone by the time this correspondent’s number was called; even so I got a gift certificate to a nice restaurant in Thousand Oaks that I like.
David Szymanski, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and Craig Sap, superintendent of State Parks Angeles District dropped in during the afternoon and dinner to chat and thank the volunteers for all their help.
After it got dark, slide shows were given by State Park scientists on the archeology of the area, especially with respect to mudslides over hundreds of years and their effect on native inhabitants, and the ecology of recovery after the Springs Fire two years ago.
The number of volunteers for Sunday’s trailwork was much smaller, as happens every year. Two dozen people broke into three crews; one worked on “Toe-stubber” a second continued clearing overgrowth from the Blue Canyon Trail, and the kids did some easy trail smoothing nearby with their parents.
CORBA would like to thank all the volunteers and Park staff who made this year’s event a rousing success!
You can view many more photos of the event in CORBA’s 2016 Trail Days photo gallery.
On Sunday, April 17, 2016, 32 volunteers converged on the Windsor/Ventura parking area, the Gabrielino trailhead, in Altadena. The day, hosted by our partners at the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, was a complete success by all measures. It was our last scheduled group trailwork day on this restoration project, which began in earnest last Fall. In October last year, I declared that all these tools we were hauling up to the top of Brown Mountain would not be coming back down Brown Mountain. They’d be going out the bottom of the trail and the Gabrielino, once the trail was finished. Last Sunday, the tools were brought out of the bottom, as planned.
In reality, the project started long before last fall. In 2013, we scouted the Gabrielino trail north of Paul Little campground, up to Oakwilde campground and the Ken Burton trail. The trail was devastated, with two major slides (think hundreds of cubic yards of earth sliding off the mountain and taking the trail with it). Before we could work on the Ken Burton trail, we had to complete the Gabrielino trail to which it connects, otherwise the two trails would be dead-ends. So our first task was to restore the Gabrielino, up and over the Brown Mountain Dam to Oakwilde/Ken Burton trail.
While our experienced volunteers could tackle the project, we were much more confident having a professional take care of it. At the same time, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps signed a contract with the Forest Service to work on the Gabrielino trail. They didn’t feel comfortable repairing some of the major damage either.
CORBA applied for and received a generous grant from REI for this section of the project. We applied that grant primarily to pay professional trailbuilders Bellfree Contractors for their expertise and work with the LACC. That work required Forest Service engineers to inspect and approve the work plan, the removal of chainlink fencing, and the re-routing of two sections of trail to avoid the major slides.
Over winter 2014-2015, the work was completed by Bellfree and the LACC. They discovered the original trail alignment near Oakwilde Campground, a fully-benched trail segment 30 or more feet above the stream bed on the eastern side slope of the creek. There were sections of rock and cement retaining wall that we estimate were built as a part of the Gabrielino in the 1950s. The LACC and Bellfree restored the trail through that section, rather rebuilding it along the streambed that everyone had been using before the Station Fire.
This segment of trail was completed last winter, but the Forest Service wouldn’t open it to the public as it was a dead-end, and too many people had already been rescued trying to find their way through the Arroyo. The completion of that section allowed us to ask permission from the Forest Service to begin on Ken Burton trail.
Oakwilde campground was devastated, and was buried under 3 feet or more of silt and sediment as the Arroyo Seco swelled well above its banks, bringing with it all the dirt and sediment from the naked hills after the station Fire. Only the tops of the picnic tables, now a few inches above “ground”, are all that remain in the campground. We’re hoping the campground can be restored to a primitive hike-in backcountry camp in the future.
So while we’ve been working on the Ken Burton for just six months, more than two years of planning and pre-requisite projects have needed to take place.
Last Sunday we had a long list of tasks to finish Ken Burton trail. With so many volunteers to help, we completed: the complete rebuilding of three switchacks; widened and cleaned up three additional switchbacks; re-cut bench on a quarter mile of trail; rock-armored two switchbacks; installed a half-dozen drains; rock-armored and rebuilt two major washed out drainages; cleared brush from the upper trail that had grown in since we worked on it six months ago; and cleared additional brush and poison oak near the bottom, all on the Ken Burton trail.
With the additional manpower, we also installed two rock retaining walls, and widened two sketchy segments of the newly re-established route of the Gabrielino trail, just south of Ken Burton. That segment will be a part of the Brown/Burton/Gabrielino trail loop, and was an important project to complete for us to feel comfortable with the trail being opened to the public.
Walk-through of our day’s work
What the bottom section looked like before our work
While working, several mountain bikers and a couple of trail runners came through the trail. It’s nice to see the trail getting use after being closed for seven years. The trail and switchbacks near the top have packed down and hardened up beautifully, having had a longer time and a lot of traffic from all the volunteers riding and hiking in to work on the lower trail. Many of the switchbacks towards the bottom that are still very loose, having had little to no rain over the past few months as we’ve worked on the trail.
The most defining moment of the day, was when we, with Forest Service authorization, removed the “trail closed” sign from the upper Ken Burton trailhead at the end of Brown Mountain Road. A Forest Service ranger inspected the trail two weeks ago, and recommended the trail be opened to the public, once we completed today’s work. The ranger’s only comment was that the Ken Burton trail “is in way better shape now than many Forest Service trails that are already open to the public.”
We concur. The trail is in better shape than most of us remember it from before the fire. With the brush not nearly as tall now, there are some incredible views that were blocked before the Station Fire. Eventually the brush will grow taller and obscure the views again, but right now, it can’t be beat. You can see downtown Los Angeles, all the way up the Arroyo Seco canyon, highway 2 and the historic Slide Canyon Bridge.
The trail includes 22 switchbacks that get progressively steeper and more technical as you descend. It’s great practice! But locking up and sliding your back wheel around the turn is not the correct, or the fastest way to ride a switchback. Practice until you can ride without sliding! Until we get another rain and some time for the trail to pack down, we all need to take it easy.
The return ride on the Gabrilieno trail is always an adventure. On Forest Service maps the trail appears as “unmaintained, unimproved, primitive trail.” For about 1.25 miles, you’re riding in the sediment that has been trapped behind the Brown Mountain dam. It can be something of a maze to pick your way through, but as more and more people begin to ride Ken Burton trail, a more defined line will be developed through the arroyo wash. Then with a big rain storm, the stream may change course and we’ll find a new route through the wash.
That’s the beauty of this trail. It really feels like you’re in the backcountry and riding in a wild place.
The trail leaves the wash at a rocky hike-a-bike chute on the right side of the river. It’s marked by ribbons and tire tracks in the sand leading up to it. Eventually we’ll need to improve that section to create a rideable/hikeable ramp out of the wash. But for the moment, prepare for a 50’ hike-a-bike up through the boulders. The trail then meanders through the alluvium, before crossing the stream and beginning the climb up and over Brown Mountain Dam.
At the crest, there are great views of the Brown Mountain Dam from above. The chainlink fence that previously lined that section has been removed, with the materials from the fence being re-purposed as retaining wall structures for segments of the Gabrielino trail. The result is a much more pleasant segment with better views. The trail through this section is extremely loose, with three very loose, tight and steep switchbacks that most people will hike their bikes through. Coming the other direction, they will be a hike-a-bike for most.
Our next project in our ongoing mission to reopen all front country trails will be the completion of the Gabrielino trail through to Switzers and Redbox. Work has been underway on that segment for the past year by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, but they’re down to a similar situation where the trail is so bad they are going to need professional help. Once again, CORBA has applied for an REI grant to help complete the section. CORBA volunteer chainsaw operators will help clear more than 60 downed trees through that segment of the trail. It may be another year before the Gabrielino is opened all the way through to Switzers.
The effort this has taken is remarkable. We’ve had at least 97 individual volunteers who have given over 1650 volunteer hours, spread over 15 scheduled work days and another 14 prep days with smaller crews. Volunteers have collectively ridden (or hiked/run) over 4000 miles with over 400,000′ of climbing to and from the work site over the past six months. We’ve had volunteers from four high school mountain bike teams participating, and people traveling from as far away as Long Beach, Orange County and Santa Clarita.
So with the Ken Burton trail reopening, the question has been asked by several people. Who was Ken Burton? The Mount Wilson Bicycling Association did a great history of the trail. It was built from 92 – 95 by the Forest Service and the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association. Ken Burton was a much-loved Forest fire fighter who was struck and killed by a drunk driver near Chilao in 1988. The trail was named in his honor, and a memorial placed at the top of the switchbacks, the section with some of the best views.
While there is still a little fine-tuning to do, we’ll be having an official ribbon-cutting and volunteer recognition on May 1st at Gould Mesa campground, as a part of the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association’s annual Pancake Breakfast. Come out on out, ride the trail before chowing down on delicious pancakes, and check on your chances to win some amazing prizes. Volunteers who did at least two days of volunteer work on the project will be presented with a commemorative T-shirt. It’s the least we could do to thank everyone for such a great effort.
Now go and ride it. We’ve earned it.
Here’s a timeline of progress reports on the project:
History of the trail: https://mwba.org/news/ken-burton-trail/
Announcement of our project: http://corbamtb.com/news/2015/10/29/ken-burton-trail/
Day 4 report (CORBA): http://corbamtb.com/news/2015/12/18/ken-burton-trail-restoration-day-4/
Day 4 report (MWBA): https://mwba.org/trail-work/the-radavist-features-mwba-corba-the-ken-burton-trail/
Day 4 report (The Radavist): http://theradavist.com/2015/12/working-with-corba-and-mwba-on-the-ken-burton-trail-in-the-san-gabriel-mountains/#1
The 2016 California Trails and Greenways conference was held in historic downtown Riverside from April 7 – 10, 2016. The conference theme was “loving our trails to death,” something many long-time trail users are realizing is becoming the norm, not the exception. This is especially true on our crowded and increasingly popular trails in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
Steve Messer, CORBA’s President, was on hand. Laurel Harkness, IMBA’s California Regional Director, had a booth and gave a presentation on “providing great, sustainable trail experiences. IMBA chapters from Orange County, San Diego County, Folsom, and the Central Coast were also represented. We took the opportunity to get the IMBA chapters together for an update on issues, strategies, and directions for each of the chapters.
The conference is also a great way to network with land managers, decision makers, trail professionals, and other user group advocates. In the six years that I’ve been attending these conferences, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Mountain Bikers are, more and more, being considered a legitimate and valuable contributors to the trail user community. With more IMBA chapters attending, and many presentations by mountain bikers and mountain-bike-friendly land managers and professionals, its obvious we are here to stay.
As a great example of the improving relations with the trail community, Steve Messer teamed up with the California State Horsemen’s Association, Trails4All, Riverside County Backcountry Horsemen and the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council to give a presentation on trail etiquette best practices. The presentation was well-received, but it was apparent we were “preaching to the choir.” The last slide of the presentation actually thanked the choir for listening to us preach! During the presentation, Dale Skinner, State Park Trails Manager for the Angeles District (Santa Monica Mountains), gave Steve and CORBA kudos for our approach to providing solutions and being exemplary stewards of our trails.
Another important presentation was Thursday’s lunch time plenary by Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area superintendent David Szymanski, State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap, and Santa Monica Mountains Conservency executive director Joe Edmiston. They discussed the current status of the Backbone Trail, and the 65 years it has taken to bring a 65 mile trail from concept to completion. Currently there are two incomplete segments. One is the bypass around the gates at the west end of Etz Meloy motorway. The NPS has begun construction on a re-route that will bypass the closed gates. It’s constrained by a narrow easement from the private property owners, forcing a less-than-ideal alignment, but it will be much better than a closed segment of trail and no alternative. The other outstanding issue is a private parcel owned by former governer Arnold Schwarzenneger, west of Kanan. The NPS is hoping to secure a trail easement from Schwarzenneger and his partners soon.
During the talk Craig Sap gave a noteworthy shoutout to CORBA and to the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council for our contributions to keeping the trails in good shape, and making up for some of the agency’s deficiencies with their reduced budgets.
They hope to open the complete Backbone trail on June 4th, as part of National Trails Day. They also plan to submit the trail for inclusion in the National Recreation Trail system. We believe the trail is worthy of such recognition.
Other notable presentations were from Rick Gunn who rode a bike around the world. Not only was he an amazing storyteller, he had an amazing story to tell. As a former journalist and photographer, his photography and the range of emotional lows and highs he experienced over two years had all the conference attendees in silence, awe, and at times, even in tears.
Aside from the State Parks employee training, for which they get continuing education credit, the sessions covered a range of topics, from sustainable trail building, trail surveying, working with public-private partnerships, and a number of project-specific presentations.
Project specific presentations were given on the current status of the Castaic Trail Master Plan, the LA River Trail (bike path), and a number of other project-related presentations. There were presentation by the Backcountry Horsemen on how they can assist in trail maintenance by packing in tools and supplies.
After the conference sessions were completed, a group headed out for the traditional multi-use ride/hike/bike event. Local equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers converged on the Santa Ana River Trail to ride/hike together, as an expression of solidarity and multi-use cooperation.
Each year we look forward to participating in this increasingly useful and relevant conference. It covers issues unique to California, is attended by both land managers, conservancies, trail advocates and user groups. It brings everyone together, simply for a passion for trails. We are loking forward to next year, to be held in Monterey about the same time as Sea Otter.
Ezra did double duty today as photographer as well as Mark’s assistant because Steve was helping to restore the Backbone Trail near Kanan Road. The weather was perfect for 17 attendees in Malibu Creek State Park this month at the Basic Skills Clinic. The clinic is always held the first Saturday of the month. You can see the photos in our April photo gallery.
We had an unusually poor turnout for our trail restoration project along the Backbone Trail between Kanan and Latigo Canyon Roads. Even so, our small group of five (4 mountain bikers and one trail runner) got a lot done, and along with the dozen or so volunteers from our partners with the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, we worked about a mile of trail, starting on the top of the tunnel just past the first steep hill out of the parking area. The poor turnout of mountain bikers was a real disappointment, especially because this is such a great and popular trail for mountain biking. This is the first leg of the ride between Kanan Road and the Corral Canyon trailhead.
There were three major problems that we needed to address – lack of drains, poorly constructed drains and overgrowing brush that included a lot of poison oak (PO).
We originally scouted this trail about six weeks ago, but we had to scrub that work day because we learned only a couple of days beforehand that there would be a major event that morning, with hundreds of trail runners passing through the work area, and the parking area would be used by support crew.
We scouted the area again last week to flag the spots where we could be working. In just six weeks the amount of growth of the brush, and especially the PO, amazed us!
For dealing with most of the overgrowth, we left that to the Trails Council crew and their gas hedge trimmer. That’s an effective way to quickly deal with overgrowing chaparral and PO. Unlike most brush cuttings that we pick up and dispose of off the trail and out of sight, clippings that contain poison oak are carefully pulled to the side of the trail with a MacLeod (has a 4′ handle) and then shoved over the edge. We try not to touch any part of the handles of our tools to the PO leaves or stems.
The CORBA crew hiked about 1.4 miles to the end of the work area to tackle a corner where there have been mountain bike spills. It turns out that the brush had overgrown the inside of the turn so that the trail had become very narrow and people were riding beyond the outside edge where the dirt was soft. Mixed in with the overgrowing brush were some very vigorous PO bushes. Lacking the gas hedge trimmer, we chopped and hacked the brush around the PO, exposing as much of it as possible, then carefully chopped, hacked and lopped those branches. Where the brush had been removed was about a foot deep of leaf litter, including PO leaves, so we scraped all that away, revealing the original trail tread. Finally, we worked the dirt to give the tread a bit of an outslope (to shed water) and to make it even with the old trail.
That effort took the five of us about an hour and a half. After that, we worked our way back to the beginning, rebuilding blocked drains, filling a few very nasty but short ruts, and building new drains.
Some of the drains we worked turned out to be old drains that were completely filled with dirt. Even thought the trail was on a steep cross-slope, the dirt had piled us several feet off the edge of the trail, like the Mississippi River delta. To make an effective drain, we had to cut down the brush that was growing up around these ‘deltas’ and then push a couple of cubic yards of dirt down the hill. That was before we could even start to construct our typical drainage nicks!
There was a major problem on the first half mile of trail beyond the top of the tunnel. Some person or group had dug poorly designed drains into the trail. They were too narrow and not sloped properly to drain water off the side. The biggest problem was that the outlet at the outside edge of the trail was narrow, so all the water was focused on one spot, eroding a deep rut. With just a few rainfalls, these ruts would start to encroach into the trail and would eventually destroy it. The Trails Council took care of these by widening them out, and also worked on some deeply rutted sections.
Overall we fixed up about a mile of trail, including brushing back the overgrowth. But be careful when riding this trail – the brush and poison oak is growing so quickly that it’s likely to continue to be a problem for some time.