Local wildlife hikers flocked to downtown Santa Barbara last night to support the “California Condor.”
The Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) held a meeting Monday at the Santa Barbara Public Library to discuss the proposal of a new hiking trail. The “California Condor” trail would be 300 miles long, stretching from Lake Piru in Ventura County through Big Sur in northern Monterey County and would connect various existing trails in the Los Padres National Forest.
The presentation involved a slide show of various parts of the trail and the wildlife hikers may see along it, as well as a discussion for the community to give feedback.
Chris Danch, executive director of LPFA, said he has been working on the project for over two years.
“Eighty percent of the trail in the forest boundary already exists. The key is connecting the existing segments of the trail. This area is very important to us whether you know it or not. Many people don’t know it exists,” Danch said.
Funding for the trail would be raised through private donations and grants, Danch said.
“The project is designed to raise its own funds through people who like the idea of it and through grants,” he said. “When we raise money, we will make a proposal of what parts of the trail needs to be filled in. The process is going to take about three years.”
Danch said there are both ecological and recreational reasons that make preservation of the forest important.
“Los Padres is the third largest forest in California. It is a watershed that provides 60 percent of the water for the surrounding communities. It also provides a great place for recreation. Each year 11 million people, from all over the world, come to Los Padres Forest hiking, backpacking, swimming, hunting, fishing and lots of other recreational purposes. Being there inspires and rejuvenates our imagination,” he said.
Danch is leading a backpacking expedition from May 12 to May 22 that will cover 120 miles of the trail as a way to generate support.
“We cover 10-12 miles a day. There’s a cost associated with it because we provide transportation and food and also because it is a fund-raiser. You can sign up for shorter legs of the hike if you can’t make the whole 120 miles,” he said. “This kind of travel, this kind of experience can be a transformation. Nothing changes your idea of what’s back there than getting out there yourself.”
Jim Blakley, a naturalist and historian from the Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties Back Country, said the trail will make the forest more accessible to younger generations.
“What’s the use of having it if you can’t use it? We’re trying to open it up so people will use it. I’ve been hiking parts of this trail for over 50 years,” he said. “Young people are our future and the future users of the forest. If we get them to appreciate it, then they will treat it more respectfully.”
Jim Mann, a Los Padres Forest Association board member, said the proposal is a way to raise awareness of the forest.
“I think it will be a major trail for the forest. It will create a lot of attention and get a lot of people interested in it that wouldn’t normally be interested. More people will learn about the forest and want to take part in its preservation. And this is good because of the old saying: ‘What people are up on, they’re not down on.’ ”
Mann said he encourages UCSB students to help with the project.
“I see a great opportunity for UCSB students to become involved. They can join the [LPFA] and participate. We like to think of ourselves as a means to get someone to volunteer somehow in the forest,” he said.
Danch said he encourages the entire Santa Barbara community to take interest.
“I personally feel like Los Padres Forest is one of the most under-appreciated forests as to what it has to offer,” he said. “Taking part in this project and having some hand in it really does change people and they want to take care of the forest. I think a lot of the damage is an unintentional result of uneducated people. You have to care. You have to give a damn.”