Posted by: James Wapotich | October 6, 2012

Trail Quest: National Public Lands Day

This past Saturday (September 29th) a group of about 40 volunteers gathered together on Cold Spring Trail. They were part of a nation wide event known as National Public Lands Day, which happens each year on the last Saturday of September.

National Public Lands Day was started in 1994 by the National Environmental Education Foundation as way to inspire community members to give back to the public lands and trails that they love and visit. The first year the event had 3 sites and 700 volunteers and has grown dramatically over the years as local communities have stepped up to support the outdoors. This year’s event represents the single largest volunteer day of its kind with over 170,000 volunteers across the country doing restoration, maintenance and clean up at over 2,100 different sites.

The event in Santa Barbara was organized by Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers with the support of the City of Santa Barbara, County of Santa Barbara and Los Padres National Forest; and saw the participation of a half dozen local organizations.

The day started at 8:30AM as volunteers signed in and were given a volunteer t-shirt, along with water and balance bars from REI who was on site to support the event.

“This is where our members are recreating, it’s where we all love to play and so it’s good to give back. And fits with REI’s mission, which is to ‘inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship’ ”, Piper Presley, Outreach Specialist for REI, told the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Volunteers were then welcomed to National Public Lands Day 2012 by the Mandy Burgess from the City Parks and Recreation Department and Kyah LaPorta, acting Trails Manager for the Santa Barbara Ranger District.

The volunteers covered a wide range of ages and were a mix of hikers, mountain bikers and trail runners and included members from the Sierra Club, Los Padres Forest Association, Santa Barbara Trail Runners, Santa Barbara Youth Corp, Santa Barbara Trails Council as well as the Multi-use Trails Coalition and Montecito Fire Department.

Following a safety briefing by Chris Orr, president of Santa Barbara Mountain Trail Volunteers, the volunteers were divided into groups.

The focus of the work was along East Fork Cold Spring Trail and included, brushing the trail, effectively widening the trail corridor, making it easier for trail users to see and pass one another, and clearing out or opening the water control features to prevent trail erosion, by channeling water off of the trail during winter rains. Signs were also installed along parts of the trail where the number of side trails has made following the main route confusing.

The week before the event, Forest Service fire crews also came down the trail from East Camino Cielo with chainsaws and cleared out the dead trees and larger over hangs. The fire crews were made available with the support of Pancho Smith, the new district ranger for Santa Barbara, who was also present at the event.

The Forest Service, in conjunction with National Public Lands Day, also offered a Fee Free Day to most of its sites nation wide so that volunteers and visitors could enjoy our National Forests as part of the day’s activities.

At around 1:00PM the volunteers wrapped up their work and headed over to Manning Park where they were treated to a free lunch that was generously donated by Santa Barbara Chicken Ranch.

Cold Spring Trail was selected this year because of it’s popularity and ease of access. Other trails that have been worked on in the past include Rattlesnake, Tunnel and San Antonio Creek trails.

Why volunteer work is so important, particularly in Santa Barbara, is that the Los Padres National Forest, along with the City and County, has seen a dramatic reduction in its funding for trail maintenance. At the same time the popularity and use of our local trails has increased.

In April 2011, the Front Country Trails Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force, which is compromised of the City of Santa Barbara, County of Santa Barbara and Los Padres National Forest, sponsored a trail study to gather general information on how many people use the trails and what types of usage.

The task force surveyed three front country trails: Tunnel, Rattlesnake and Cold Spring. About 1,500 people were counted over two separate days, Wednesday and Saturday, during a one week period, and of those, half completed a questionnaires about how often they use the trails and what types of activities they were engaged in. The results suggested that our front country trails experience hundreds of visitors each week, primarily City and County residents. Most of the trail users are hikers, with a smaller percentage engaged in mountain biking, horseback riding and rock climbing. The count also revealed that 14% of the visitors brought their dog along with them on the trails.

Field staff were stationed at the beginning of each of the trails to conduct the surveys and of the 1,500 trail users counted over the two days, roughly 600 were observed along Tunnel Trail, which leads to Seven Falls and Inspiration Point, 600 along Cold Spring Trail, which includes Montecito Peak and Tangerine Falls and 300 along Rattlesnake Trail. On average 3 times as many people were seen using the trails on Saturday than on Wednesday, during the week the count was conducted. The results of the study can found on the City’s website,

Other nearby events for National Public Lands Day included site clean up and beautification of picnic areas at San Buenaventura Beach in Ventura with about 80 volunteers, organized by Friends of Channel Coast State Parks. Trash pickup along Santa Paula Canyon organized by the Ojai Ranger District. Santa Paula Canyon is a popular hiking trail behind Santa Paula, and volunteers removed over 100 pounds of trash and cleaned up about 2.5 miles of trail. And in the Carrizo Plain volunteers built a rail fence to prevent vehicles from driving through sensitive areas. In California alone there were 125 sites participating.

The City in collaboration with the County and Los Padres National Forest regularly sponsors volunteer trail work events and was instrumental in organizing trail work and restoration following the 2008 Tea Fire and 2009 Jesusita Fire; and there’s still more work to be done.

“The more people who come out and volunteer the better, because we’re able to maintain the trails that much more and make them as safe as we can for everybody”, Jill Zachary, Assistant Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers also hosts monthly trail work days.

Other annual volunteer trail work days include, National Trails Day in June and California Trails Day in April.

This article originally appeared in section A of the October 6th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. Was just on Cold Spring and wondered who had done the work. Although there is one limb near the first creek crossing which I deeply miss, I thank you for all the work that has made the trail more accessible.

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