2016 is behind us, and what a year it was for CORBA and mountain bikers! We were extremely busy last year, cutting trails, cutting trees, and working on behalf of the mountain bike community to ensure continued and improved access to mountain biking in the greater Los Angeles and Eastern Ventura County areas.
Opening of Ken Burton Trail
In 2016, the Gabrielino Trail Restoration project, with REI, Bellfree Contractors, and Los Angeles Conservation Corps, was completed. Ken Burton Trail restoration with MWBA was completed, opening the Ken Burton trail and a popular loop after seven years of closure, thousands of volunteer hours, and nearly three years of planning.
Volunteers hike up the Dragonback hills to get to the work area.
Workers from two companies with headquarters in Newbury Park took Friday morning December 9th off from work to help repair the Los Robles Trail West as part of their company’s community outreach programs. We expected 30 volunteers from Giant Bicycles and Amgen but at least 37 showed up, supervised by three COSCA rangers and one of CORBA’s trail crew leaders. Because of the large turnout, we got the work done in record time.
The work area started at the top of the most eastward Dragonback hill, almost a mile from the Felton St. trailhead, and continued for 0.4 miles towards the picnic table at Angel Vista. Work consisted of treadwork: digging out stumps, filling ruts, adding or repairing drainages, resloping and raking loose rocks off the trail.
A few days earlier, the CREW had cleared out overgrowing brush so we didn’t have to worry about that.
One huge rut on the most eastward Dragonback hill was filled and the trail leveled, however it was still loose because the dirt was so dry. To address that, the rangers came back a few days later with 30 gallons of water, hauled on a power wheelbarrow, and soaked the loose dirt to pack it down.
Overall, everyone did a fantastic job and this section of the trail that has been neglected for years is in much better shape and should be able to withstand the winter rainstorms without damage!
Of the 120 volunteers expected for the annual event held in Thousand Oaks, about 60 were put into seven crews that worked on building a bypass to the very steep bottom of the Peninsula Trail in the Western Plateau/Conejo Canyons area. The other half were assigned to six crews to work on two other trails leading down to the canyon, but some distance from the Peninsula Trail.
The CORBA crew and other mountain bikers worked on the Peninsula Trail, so only our experience will be described here.
The event began at 7:30 when volunteers started to arrive for registration and to get their goodies bag. The chaotic process of gathering into crews of about 10 each worked itself out, as it always does, and the crews with their leaders hiked down about a mile to the trailhead where we grabbed tools from the COSCA Ranger truck that was parked there. After the safety talk, the crews hiked to their work areas along the new trail that had already been cleared of chaparral.
The project was to build a new, much less steep trail that would replace the bottom section of the Peninsula Trail. It was to be about 0.35 miles long. Most of the new trail crossed a fairly steep slope, and some sections of the cross slope were very steep. That meant that we had to dig a lot of dirt out to make a trail! Overall, we must have moved several tons of dirt, but fortunately we didn’t have to move most of it more than a few feet.
We returned our tools to the Ranger truck and headed back to the meeting area in time to get to the barbecue by about noon. The COSCA Rangers cook up a great meal of ‘burgers, ‘dogs, chili and vegi-burgers, with all the accoutrements, for the Annual event held every October and the Spring event in March.
The prize give-away started as folks were finishing off their lunch; most of the prizes were books on local trails, but there was a grand prize of a mountain bike donated by Giant Bikes and a local bike shop.
Join CORBA, SMMTC, COSCA and other volunteer groups to work on the Conejo Open Space trails in Thousand Oaks.
This year we’ll be building a new trail, about 0.7 miles long, that leads from the top of the steep ‘Baxter Road’ in Newbury Park around and down to near the south end of the Hawk Canyon Trail in the Western Plateau / Conejo Canyons.
There will be a thank you lunch and prize drawings at noon after the work. This is a great event with lots of like-minded folks to help out. If you use the trails in Thousand Oaks, come out and help build and maintain them! No prior experience is necessary and all volunteers work at their own pace, taking plenty of time to rest and chat with other trail enthusiasts!
This annual Conejo Valley event always helps to put some very sweet trails into good shape. Be sure to stay afterwards for the free lunch and raffle.
Last Saturday, September 10, about 30 mountain bikers joined 50 or so HandsOn Santa Clarita volunteers to help with Sand Fire cleanup at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.
The HandsOn crew focused on the west end of the trail and the parkland surrounding the Nature Center. Meanwhile the SCV Trail Users headed up to the more heavily burned area at Walker Ranch campground.
We split up and built eight debris check dams in drainages that lead into the streambed of Placerita Creek. After a fire, soil and ash denuded of vegetation, can become major debris flows with a relatively small amount of rain. These debris flows do more damage to trails than anything else. We saw it in many areas of the Station Fire. I did an interview for Mountain Bike Action magazine, discussing the impacts of fire to trails.
The eight debris check dams will help capture sediment and slow down flows before they cross the trail and enter the canyon. They were constructed of native rock and sand bags filled from the dry streambed, upstream of the check dams.
Thanks to all the volunteers who came out to help, LA County for allowing us to help protect the trail we lobbied for access to, and to the SCV Trail Users for coordinating the effort.
We’re fulfilling our promise of being both responsible trail users, and stewards of our trails and public lands.
In 2011, The Canyon Trail in Placerita Canyon State Park was closed to mountain bikes without warning. It had been mistakenly posted as open, with many mountain bikers using the trail for years. Local mountain bikers united with CORBA to successfully lobby the County to open the trail bikes. From that effort the SCV Trail Users were formed and together we continue to confront local trail issues.
Canyon Trail post Sand Fire
Recently the Sand Fire scorched this area, and the County has asked for help to protect the Canyon Trail and the Placerita Canyon State Park from mud and debris flow when the winter rains come.
Please save the date, Saturday September 10, 8 am, at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. Give up one day of riding, and come help build debris check dams to reduce the flow of mud and debris from the Sand Fire onto the Canyon Trail and into the Park area.
We’ll be working alongside other volunteer groups including HandsOn Santa Clarita. Bring gloves, lots of water and snacks. The County will provide the materials and supplies for the check dams.
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.
Jim Burton cuts the ceremonial ribbon, as Steve Messer, Matt Lay and Jenny Johnson of MWBA, and Ken’s daughters Heather and Tania look on. Photo by Mark Skovorodko.
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.
Plaque of recognition for Steve Messer
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.
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.
Clearing mustard on the Sin Nombre Trail
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.
Fixing a rut on the Sin Nombre Trail
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.
Fixing the tight, rocky switchback at the bottom of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail, part of the Backbone Trail.
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.
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.
Decorating the dessert cakes for Saturday’s dinner
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.
Saturday night barbecue dinner and prize give-away
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!
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.
Installing rock retaining walls on the Gabrielino trail
A finished rock retaining wall on the Gabrielino
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.”
Removing the Trail Closed sign
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.
A rebuilt switchback, still soft.
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.
Riding the Arroyo Wash along the Gabrielino Trail
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.
The Gabrielino trail remains closed north of Ken Burton Trail junction. This “Trail closed” sign was moved from the top of Ken Burton to here.
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:
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.
Starting to hack back the brush that was overgrowing the inside of this turn.
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 brush is all cut back, but there’s a lot of leaf litter to remove still.
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.
We’ve almost finished restoring this turn to its original condition.
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.