Posted by: James Wapotich | February 15, 2013

Trail Quest: Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers

There are a number of ways to enjoy and explore our local trails and backcountry. And while hiking remains the most popular, there are a lot of people who take to the trails either on horseback or mountain bike.

Santa Barbara can be a great place to take up mountain biking as there are a variety of places to ride. Most of our trails are open to bikes with the exception of Rattlesnake Canyon, Parma Park and the designated wilderness areas within Los Padres National Forest.

It is however, this same popularity of our trails that at times has created conflict amongst the different user groups. And at one time the tension between user groups ran much higher. The reduction of that tension is the direct result of education and outreach amongst the different organizations and trail users.

Founded in 1988 Santa Barbara Mountain Trial Bike Volunteers has done a great job of educating trail users including mountain bikers around responsible trial usage and etiquette. First through their Bicycle Assistance Unit which involved mountain bike volunteers riding the trails and providing outreach to trail users, and then later through their Trailhead Education Program with volunteers stationed at the beginning of some our more popular trails.

Probably one of their best known programs is the bicycle bell program which provides cyclists free bells at the top and bottom of the trails to make it easier to know when a mountain biker is coming down the trail.

There is however still more work to be done to help trail users all be on the same page.

“Most trail users don’t know what type of users to expect on the trails.” Chris Orr, Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers President, told the News-Press. “One way that’s been resolved in other communities with urban trail interfaces is through adequate signage on the trails that include the etiquette and responsibilities for trail users. For example a trail kiosk that would draw people’s attention and also include a map of the trail with distances and how strenuous the trail is.”

Some of the basics of trail etiquette include yielding to the person coming uphill. And then amongst trail users, cyclists yield to hikers. And both hikers and cyclists yield to equestrian users. It’s also helpful when possible to be off the trail on the downhill side with equestrians, as this makes you appear less intimidating to the horse. Speaking to the rider helps the horse establish that you’re a person, something familiar, particularly if you’re wearing a large backpack or on a bike.

For those interested in getting started in mountain biking SBMTV regularly offers free mountain bike workshops at REI. Mr. Orr suggests for beginners to start with less strenuous and technically demanding trails such as those found at Elings Park or Ellwood Mesa, and then work up towards, for example, Romero Canyon Loop.

For more advanced mountain bikers Santa Barbara County offers some great rides through our local backcountry that make use of the trails and fire roads in the National Forest. Two of the more popular routes are Camuesa Connector and Little Pine Mountain.

The Camuesa Loop typically starts at either Lower or Upper Oso, and continues along the Buckhorn-Camuesa Road to Camuesa Connector Trailhead. Riders then take the trail down to Paradise Road returning to where they started, for a loop of about 10.5 miles.

The Little Pine ride, typically starts at Upper Oso, and continues along Buckhorn-Camuesa Road to the turn off to Happy Hollow, and across Little Pine Mountain to Santa Cruz Trial. Riders then take Santa Cruz Trail back down to Upper Oso, for a loop of about 16 miles.

In addition to education and outreach SBMTV leads volunteer trail work days, the second Saturday of each month to maintain and improve our local trails. Working on both front country and backcountry trails.

“Many of our backcountry trails haven’t received much trail maintenance in the past 10 years because of diminishing resources within the Forest Service, and the increased reliance on volunteer organizations to fill the gap. And so we’re seeing a backlog of the amount of trail work that is needed.” Mr. Orr noted.

The impact of the 2007 Zaca Fire other forest fires is also evident along many of these same trails. Trails along hillsides in the burn areas such as Santa Cruz Trail have seen soil and rock material sluff or slide down across the trail from the uphill side, either reducing the width of the trail or pushing hikers off the original tread as they attempt to hike around the damage.

And while one might think that the fires would’ve actually reduced the density of fast growing chaparral and wild grasses along our trails, the opposite is proving true. Exposed soil, mixed with nutrients from the ash, has created a tremendous amount of new growth along some trails, further reducing the width of the original tread. And so, in some places the maintenance now required, in addition to brushing, also involves widening the trail and reestablishing the tread.

Santa Barbara Mountain Trail Bike Volunteers has already hosted two trail work trips along Santa Cruz Trail and is planning two more to make the trail more accessible.

The project along Santa Cruz Trail last November saw about 25 volunteers. With the support of the Forest Service, volunteers carpooled along Buckhorn Road to Happy Hollow and hiked the trail across Little Pine Mountain to Alexander Saddle carrying the tools they needed with them. From Alexander Saddle they widened and brushed the trail down to what’s referred to as the Meadow.

This past weekend about 30 volunteers returned along the same route, picking up where they left off, and reestablished the trail across the meadow, which had become overgrown with wild mustard and so narrow places as to almost be unhikeable. Work was also done below the meadow to clear brush and repair water control features down towards the turn off to the horse trough along Santa Cruz Trail, about a mile below Alexander Saddle.

New developments in trail maintenance and design have helped to make the time invested in trail work last longer. Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers regularly brings in trail experts to offer workshops on the latest techniques in trail maintenance and design; and is the process of creating their own certification process for sustainable trail maintenance.

Some key elements of sustainable trail building and maintenance are out sloping and grade reversals to help water flow naturally off of the trail, rainwater runoff being one of the major contributors to trail erosion. Out sloping involves having trail tread slope 5 percent away from the hillside allowing water to sheet off the trail instead of pooling. Grade reversals involve reversing the grade of the trail up or down every 20-50 feet to prevent water from running directly down the trail.

For more information about Santa Barbara Mountain Bike Trail Volunteers, their monthly trail work projects or to become a member go to

SBMTV Membership is $30, which helps support the bell program and trail maintenance. SBMTV is a local chapter of IMBA, International Mountain Bicycling Association, and so membership includes IMBA membership and benefits as well.

SBMTV will be hosting their annual trails benefit, February 24th. The event is free and open to the public and will include the movie premier of “Reveal the Path” about cycling. SBMTV also regularly organizes trail riding events.

In the next fews months SBMTV plans to update their website to include maps of our local trails with milage and trail conditions, beginning with the front country trails and those along Paradise Road.

This article originally appeared in section A of the February 15th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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