Rogers Road Trail Update

On November 10, CORBA Board members Mark Langton, Jeff Klinger, Hans Keifer, Danusia Bennet-Taber, and Steve Messer, along with Jim Hasenauer of IMBA and Bryan Gordon of the Canyonback Alliance, walked/rode the upper section of Rogers Road Trail with Topanga Sector Superintendent Lynette Brody and Maintenance Supervisor Dale Skinner.  This tour was arranged by CORBA with these State Park employees in response to intense public input regarding recent work performed on the “re-route” (singletrack) section of trail (west where it meets Temescal Ridge Fire Road) as well as about a mile and a half of the wider road bed to the east of the singletrack. In the past few weeks, Supervisor Skinner has used a Sweco trail tractor/dozer to fix and install several drainage channels, as well as bring the trail up to vegetation clearance guidelines for multiple use, specifically, equestrians. Many local trail users have complained to State Parks that the work was overdone and that a once narrow, serene singletrack trail has been obliterated into a road.

There are actually two separate sections, the “re-route” which was built as a true narrow trail, and the main Rogers Road Trail, which was originally a road cut that supported wide and heavy equipment.

Earlier comments on CORBA’s web site began by trying to assuage concerns of trail users not familiar with this kind of work by saying that typically trails “come back” to a more natural state after a couple of seasons. This can be said for the “re-route” section, although CORBA noted to Supervisor Skinner that the widening created a “faster trail” and suggested that possible speed control devices such as pinch-point structures be considered.

As for the wider section, based on the tour that took place on November 10, CORBA’s original comments were premature. After witnessing the complete section of the work area and hearing comments made by Supervisor Skinner, as well as an evaluation by professional trail contractor Hans Keifer, it is evident that the work that was performed lacked forethought and consideration for minimal impact. In fact, no Project Evaluation Form (PEF) was submitted for this work and therefore is in direct violation of the department’s own policy. We were assured by both Superintendent Brody and Supervisor Skinner that the work will not continue until a Project Evaluation Form is completed and that trail users will have a say in the process, which they said could take several months to over a year.

It’s true that after new construction or trail maintenance, trails look bare and lose their natural character.  Typically, Spring rains create new vegetation which helps the trails recover some of their more natural character.   This has been our experience on several agency trail maintenance projects in the past.  In the case of the recent work on the wider section of Rogers Road Trail there was a fundamental disagreement between the State’s position that Rogers should be maintained to “road” standards and that vegetation should be cut wider than the 8-foot wide/10-foot high vegetation clearance suggested by multiple use guidelines–and CORBA’s position that Rogers is a trail (the Backbone Trail), not a road; that the 8-foot/10-foot clearance was for new trail construction, not existing trails, and that the trail should be left as narrow and natural as possible while addressing and achieving the maintenance concerns of water drainage and a proper vegetation width for shared use with equestrians.

We acknowledged that this is a multi-use trail that must work for all users and that there are several drainage and maintenance issues that are beyond the scope of handwork.  We demonstrated how anything more than an 8-foot clearance wasn’t necessary for safety or sustainability and that in many cases the clearance that has been done was far wider than eight feet.  CORBA’s position is that this work went too far and urged State Parks to minimize the impact of the maintenance on the only bike-legal singletrack in Topanga State Park.

We were informed that the plan was to continue the work down to the Will Rogers State Historic Park Trail Loop, and we also expressed serious concern about continuing these impacts into what is admittedly an eroded and deteriorating section of trail. Superintendent Brody and Supervisor Skinner reiterated that moving forward, greater evaluation and a full PEF would take place and could take several months to over a year.

Examination of the new/refurbished drains that were installed shows minimal attention to corrected out sloping to facilitate proper drainage; drains were basically cut with only a few passes with the Sweco’s blade and very little additional shaping or contouring was evident. On another section of trail, an entire corner (approximately 250-300 square feet) was scraped clean of vegetation, with the reason for the denudation being “ it’s for the hikers. Hikers like the beautiful views.” This brush clearance ignores the fact that it created a large, bare, disturbed area of unprotected, easily eroded earth that will exacerbate hydro erosion because there is no root system to control runoff. Also, there was no drain installed at the bottom of the hill where water would run to from this bare area. Another section of trail further south was smoothed of ruts and out sloped correctly. However, the width of the tread was increased to approximately 12 feet, far more than what CORBA considers appropriate or necessary.

Maintenance Supervisor Dale Skinner (left foreground) and members of CORBA discuss the complete removal of vegetation from dozens of square yards of soil at an "overlook" section of Rogers Road Trail. Photo by Jim Hasenauer

Again, we were assured by both Superintendent Brody and Supervisor Skinner that the work will not continue until a Project Evaluation Form is completed and that trail users will have a say in the process. Check back here for further information as we get it. There will be several opportunities to get involved as trail planning in Topanga State Park and the rest of the Santa Monica’s moves forward. We encourage you to get involved with your parks’ planning process and be proactive in shaping park policy, planning and landscapes.

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5 Responses to “Rogers Road Trail Update”

  1. kevin burke says:

    Concepts like “minimize structural damage, while following natural contours” or “pleasing to the eye” often to some, just can’t be taught. When dealing with government entities, quantification and standardisation are the rule. When builiding a trail, it takes someone with an “eye”for it, or else you end up with a road. Mechanical contraptions, by their very size and limitations, end up creating straight and flat. How do you deal with that?
    Keep it up.
    Thank you, Corba.

  2. Kevin says:

    What is the latest news on this trail project, and what is the status of the “project evaluation form”? Why in the world does it take “over a year” to complete a “form”, especially for a section of trail that is, and always has been… a road bed? Rogers Road started as a road bed, and requires occasional machine-assisted maintenance in order to remain usable by any and all user groups. Currently, the trail below the oak tree is virtually impassable. Dale Skinner was doing us(anyone who does trail work)a massive favor by devoting his time and machinery on Rogers Road. And we thanked him by letting a few internet complainers overrule his authority. Ridiculous.

    So while we sit around and wait for the bureaucrats to decide what & when is appropriate maintenance to this road bed, why hasn’t corba scheduled any trail days for this trail? Surprising negligence, when you consider that Rogers Road is corba’s crown jewel of trail openings.

    Such a disappointment. It grows back, people!

  3. markmtb says:

    Kevin,

    Thanks for your input. If you have to ask why a governmental process takes so long, we invite you to get more involved with CORBA and learn first hand! The Project Evaluation Form (PEF) is not just a form, it is a process that identifies and prioritizes a number of criteria for any given project before they can be implemented. Because of the nature of Rogers Road Trail’s tread surface and potential instability in places, the PEF could be quite lengthy.

    Your comment about “a few internet complainers” is way off base. Topanga Sector Superintendent Lynnette Brody received dozens of calls and emails from individuals from all user groups, from both sides of the hill, ranging from concern to outrage. In fact, the grading was halted because Maintenance Supervisor Dale Skinner did not submit a PEF for the work and was doing the grading and brushing without authorization. Subsequent discussions with CORBA and other groups resulted in further examination of the actual width of grading, and width and height of brushing, with the general consensus that it should not necessarily be as wide and high as initially performed near the west end of Rogers Road Trail.

    As for scheduling trail maintenance on Rogers Road Trail, it was one of the first things we discussed with Supervisor Skinner. We were told that we would need to submit additional paperwork to his office including liability forms in order to schedule new trail work. We requested the paperwork and to date have not received it. But thanks to your comments, we have renewed vigor in pursuing a brushing crew to tackle the overgrowth below the Lone Oak. I hope we can count on you to help us!

  4. Kevin says:

    What is the latest update regarding this matter? I ride the Rogers Backbone all the time, and it’s condition is reaching “almost unpassable” status. That is of course except for the beautiful work that Dale did with his sweco. In 6 months, Dale’s section of backbone, being the top mile from Temescal fire road, is in pristine condition. The grading has grown in with low vegetation(already), so the bald spot is now only 5 feet wide, and the singletrack is now burned in. If this blog had picture upload, I would show you.

    As for the rest of the trail, it’s an utter embarrassment. If Dale had been allowed to continue his work, we would all be enjoying one of the most incredible sections of singeltrack in all of southern California. Instead, we have a horribly overgrown trail that is VERY dangerous for all trail users right now. The brush is masking horrible ruts and rain damage, which could lead to users riding off-trail, or over the side, which could lead to major injury or fatality. Line of sight/visibility is also greatly affected, which causes user conflict and potential for collision.

    I’m shocked at CORBA’s lack of involvement regarding this matter. I see NO upcoming Rogers trail days for the entire year. Paperwork has never been an issue in the past regarding permission for TSP trail days, which begs the question…when did CORBA fall out of grace with TSP management? It’s such a shame to see this incredible trail fall off CORBA’s radar.

    Regarding my personal involvement, I’ve attended about 75% of Rogers trail days over the last 10 years. Problem is, scheduling ONE trail day a year simply doesn’t “cut it” for this trail. We all know that the brush grows so fast on Rogers, it needs more attention than annual. This is where Dale and is sweco would have been so effective. Oh well.

    This trail is so dangerous right now, it should probably be closed to bikes. Perhaps I’ll put a call into Lynette and suggest it be closed to bikes. I’ll keep you posted on her response.

  5. Steve Clark says:

    I hiked the length of Rogers Road a few weeks ago. At that point, the brush and grass was overgrowing most of the trail between J-Drop and the bottom of the newly sweco’d section, a distance of 3.5 miles. As a volunteer trail crew leader, I calculated that it would take 10 biweekly trailwork events, with 6-12 workers per event, to clear out the brush on that much trail. There are also several hundred yards of the steeper sections that are severely rutted – these 10 events don’t even address that problem.

    Given the certainty that 6-12 trailworkers would lose interest after showing up for at most two events, one must ask if it’s worth starting something that would at best be 20% completed, and more likely only 10% finished.

    Regarding the sweco work that was done, even several weeks ago it was clear that a singletrack was forming and the brush was starting to grow back. That’s the good news. The problem for the future is that the road was insloped so rainwater will run to the uphill side of the trail. This would be fine on a road where there is a gutter or ditch to collect the water and remove it from the trail. But Rogers Road has no such features, so the water will carve a big rut when it runs down the edge of the trail. Trail standards require an outslope of about 5% so that the water will run off the downhill side of the trail and not form a rut in the area of the trail tread. The rut that will form because of the current inslope will have to be dealt with at some point in the future. Fortunately the trail isn’t very steep where the sweco work was done, so the water won’t run very quickly and will take longer to carve a deep rut.

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