Posted by: James Wapotich | November 18, 2012

Trail Quest: Santa Barbara Trails Council

For lot of us it would be hard to imagine living in Santa Barbara and not being able to hike in the mountains or along the coast. But anything worth enjoying is also worth maintaining and protecting.

The Santa Barbara Trails Council was created in 1967 by a group of local citizens who were concerned about the loss of hiking and riding trails in the light of increased urbanization in Santa Barbara County. The group was formed to advocate for our local trails at the county level, both in terms of access to trails and their ongoing maintenance.

Among the Trails Council’s founding members were George and Vivian “Vie” Obern, who’s passion for trails and trail access have had a lasting impact on the trails in our community. The Obern Bike Path, which connects Santa Barbara and UCSB, is named in their honor.

"Santa Barbara Trails Council" "Midland School"

Santa Barbara Trails Council Executive Director Ray Ford installs a trail sign at the Midland School Ranch Property

Vie Obern and the Trails Council help create the County Riding and Hiking Trails Advisory Committee (CRAHTAC), which monitors new development and other projects that impact trails and trail access. The 5 member committee includes a representative from each of the districts in the county and in essence gives a voice to trail users in the context of county planning.

Another significant accomplishment of the Trails Council was the addition of the Parks Recreation Trails layer (PRT) to the County’s Master Plan in 1980, which laid out where trails should be in the future for the county. This has not only helped determine whether or not there needs to be an easement when a major project occurs; but more importantly it has made trails and trail access a part of the conversation around community development and planning.

“Santa Barbara’s blessed with not only this incredible sea to summit environment, but thanks to history and the early days we have this incredible trails system. And it’s easy to take that for granted. However, it requires people to take time and effort to care for them and provide access where it’s needed.” Ray Ford, Executive Director, Santa Barbara Trails Council told the News-Press.

Something of a local fixture in the Santa Barbara outdoor community, Mr. Ford has written a number of books on our local hiking trails, produced various trail maps and is also the author of Santa Barbara Wildfires: Fire on the Hills, which is a history of the wildfires in our local area.

Mr. Ford has been involved in a variety of local trails related organizations over the years and joined the board of the Santa Barbara Trails Council in 2004. In 2009 he became the Trails Council’s executive director.

The Trails Council also provided assistance to Friends of the Franklin Trail in constructing portions of that trail which will likely be open to the public next summer. Franklin Trail originally connected Carpinteria with the Santa Barbara Backcountry and its reopening, after almost 40 years, will help create additional hiking and riding opportunities in Carpinteria.

"Midland School" "Grass Mountain" "Santa Barbara" day hike

Hikers enjoying the trails on the Midland Ranch Property

Currently the Trails Council is completing its work improving the trails system found on the Midland School Ranch property, which is located between Los Olivos and Figueroa Mountain.

Earlier this year the Trails Council received a generous grant from the WWW Foundation to improve the trails there for equestrian use. And with the support of Midland School has constructed, cleared or repaired roughly 10 miles of trails for hiking and equestrian use.

Portions of that work was done using a small Kubota tractor or excavator, which is becoming more and more common for trail building and repair because of its efficiency.

“I realized pretty quickly that with agencies not being able to provide the kind of manual labor needed and the cost of building trails being so expensive that we’re going to need to use mechanized equipment in order to build trails” Mr. Ford shared.

The Midland trails have also seen a fair amount of community involvement. This summer Patrick Konkol from Boy Scout Troop 105, helped install trail signs as part of his Eagle Scout Project with the support of volunteers, and members of Troop 26 and Weblos from Pack 36.

"Santa Barbara Trails Council" "Midland School" Santa Barbara Trails "Birabent Canyon" day hike

Midland School Ranch Manager Ben Munger cuts the ribbon officially opening the Midland Trail while Otis Calef, Santa Barbara Trails Council President, looks on with other hikers gathered for the event.

And a couple of weeks ago Midland School hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the trails. In December, the Trails Council will be hosting the first annual Grass Mountain Trail Race to help raise funds for the trail maintenance.

The Midland Trails are available for hiking and equestrian use, however for hiking visitors need to stop at the school and fill out a one day hiking permit, and equestrian users need to contact the school to arrange access.

Other projects the the Trails Council is working on is the Baron Ranch Ridge Trail, which would connect the existing Baron Ranch Trail with Camino Cielo Trail that runs along the top of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The lower trail was opened in 2011 and this extension would allow trails users to connect up with the trails at Gaviota State Park.

The Trails Council has done an incredible job of securing funding, working with the Forest Service, and is in the process of completing an Environment Impact Report (EIR), to meet the requirements in order for the ridge trail to be constructed. The new trail will likely be open this spring.

"Baron Ranch" "Baron Ridge Trail" "West extension" "Santa Barbara" day hikes

Santa Barbara Trails Council board member Dan Gira is seen surveying the proposed route for the upper Baron Ranch Ridge Trail. Image courtesy Santa Barbara Trails Council

Even more ambitious, the Trails Council, along with a number of other local non-profit organizations, is working to ensure that the vision of the California Coastal Trail running along the coast from Goleta to Gaviota is realized.

The California Coastal Trail was the result of an initiative passed by the voters of California in 1972 to create a trail along the coast of California, including the section of coast in Santa Barbara County.

However the question remains what the route of that trail will be. The Trails Council is actively working to support easements along the coastal bluff top that in the words of the state’s policy vision for the coastal trail are “as close to the coast as aesthetically and physically possible” and “within the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean.”

We are at unique moment in time, where a number of properties along the coast are proposing development projects and need to work with the county for approval of their project. The actions we take now will determine the extent to which future generations can enjoy this section of the coast.

If you’d like to support trails in your local community there are number of things that can be done. You can contact your local representatives and let them know that trail access and funding for trail maintenance is important to you.

You can also join volunteers in helping to keep our trails open. The Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers,, hosts monthly trail work days and the Los Padres Forest Association,, organizes trail work trips into the Santa Barbara backcountry.

To quickly find out about upcoming trail work opportunities go to the Santa Barbara Trail Volunteers’ Meetup site,, which typically lists all of the different upcoming volunteer projects, as well as trails related events.

"Santa Barbara Trails Council"

Ray Ford is seen improving a trail at the Midland School Ranch Property

The Trails Council is also creating an endowment that people can donate to, to provide funds for trail maintenance. Donations can also be made for specific trails.

For more information about the Santa Barbara Trails Council or to become a member, go to New members receive a free set of 8 maps created by Mr. Ford that highlight seven of the more popular front country trails plus a map of the trails at the Midland School Ranch property.

This article originally appeared in section A of the November 18th, 2012 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

This article also represents the 100th Trail Quest article in the Santa Barbara News-Press.


  1. Thank you, Trails Council! (And thank you, James!)

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