Posted by: James Wapotich | April 4, 2016

Trail Quest: Yucca Trail

Gaviota State Park Yucca Trail Las Cruces Ortega Woodland Tunnel Hollister Ridge Ranch hike
Volunteers gather for the project at Gaviota State Park

Not many people have heard of Yucca Trail, and fewer still have hiked it, at least not until very recently. The trail is found in Gaviota State Park and, due to lack of funding, hadn’t been maintained in more than 10 years. In fact, the trail was all but unhikeable until volunteers recently helped clear the brush as part of an overall effort to improve the trails within the park.

The 2,787-acre state park stretches inland from the coast and Yucca Trail is one of 10 trails within the park. The trail follows the ridge along the park’s northern boundary and offers some great views out across of surrounding area. The trail is just a mile long, but connects to several other trails and can be used as part of a larger loop hike through the park. 

To get to the trailhead from Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north to the State Route 1 exit for Lompoc. From the exit, turn left and cross over the freeway and continue west. Look for the first road on your left, which is San Julian Road, and follow it as it leads back towards the freeway. The road passes Vista de Las Cruces School, before arriving at the parking area for the trails. Parking is free. Park hours are 7:00 a.m. to sunset.

From the parking area, continue along the paved access road to the locked gate, and from there continue along the unpaved access road. A short ways in the road arrives at the first trail juncture. Here, Las Cruces Trail continues along the unpaved access road. To the left, is the beginning of Ortega Trail and, to the right, is the beginning of Yucca Trail. 

At the trail juncture is a new kiosk with a map of the trails, as well as information about the history of the area. A map of the trails can also be found online at http://www.parks.ca.gov.  At each of the trail junctures are also newly installed trail signs.

From the access road, Yucca Trail leads through a mix of chaparral with the predominant plants being coastal sage, black sage, and lemonade berry. The trail then passes through a small stand of coast live oak before continuing through mostly chaparral as it makes its way towards the ridge along the northern boundary of the park.

As the trail climbs it offers views to the west towards Gaviota Peak and to the south across the park. As the trail moves off the ridge one starts to see some yucca along the trail and the contours of the original ranch road that the trail follows becomes more evident.

At the top, Yucca Trail meets La Cruces and Hollister Trails. From here, one can make a return loop along Las Cruces Trail or extend their hike by following Hollister Trail as it traces the ridge along the western edge of the park and return via Overlook Fire Road and Ortega Trail for a larger loop hike of 4.5 miles.

Volunteers have done a great job of reopening the majority of Yucca Trail and making it hikeable, along with the other trails in the park. 

The work is part of a concerted effort by Santa Barbara Trails Council to improve and develop new trails along the coast between Ellwood and Gaviota. Created in 1967, the Trails Council advocates for local trails at the county level, both in terms of trail access and ongoing maintenance.

In 2013, as part of that effort, Curt Cragg, Volunteer Trail Projects Coordinator, reached out to California State Parks to see about organizing volunteer projects at Gaviota State Park.

An avid hiker, Mr. Cragg, in 2011, launched Santa Barbara County Hikers Meetup Group. The site grew out of the hikes he was already informally organizing for his friends and network of fellow hikers. For several years he regularly led a Saturday morning hike on the different trails in Santa Barbara County before becoming more focused on trail maintenance projects.

Mr. Cragg has also served on the board of Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society. An interest in collecting early gas station memorabilia led him to the organization. In working with the images in their collection on the subject and adding to it photos he had collected on his own, he created an exhibit for the museum and also helped digitize their existing collection.

“There weren’t really any existing volunteer relationships with State Parks in our area that would allow volunteer trail work to go forward.” Mr. Cragg told the News-Press. “The major shift occurred when we approached them and offered to start taking on some trail projects at Gaviota. And I have to give a lot of credit to park ranger Dustin Patterson, who shared our interest in getting the trails system back in shape, and helped us get started.”

The first volunteer project at the park cleared brush along the popular Beach to Backcountry trail that connects from the coastal side of the park, past Gaviota Wind Caves, to the ridge that overlooks the northern half of the park. More projects ensued after that, including clearing Tunnel View and Trespass Trails. And in just the past six months, in addition to reopening Yucca Trail, volunteers have helped reestablish the Woodland Trail, which had all but disappeared; and reopened the underpass connector trail, which lets hikers cross under the freeway, and connects together the trails on both sides of the freeway into a single network.   

A partnership was also developed with California State Parks Foundation, which is the non-profit arm of California State Parks. The foundation donated material for all of the signs and kiosks; tools for the projects; and provided funds for lunches and snacks for the volunteers. The organization also helped put out the call for volunteers to their membership. A recent project at Gaviota State Park saw more than 30 volunteers with participants coming from as far away as Orange County and Santa Cruz.

The success of the volunteer work at the park and the relationship created with State Parks has allowed the Trails Council to also start organizing projects to improve and maintain Bill Wallace Trail in El Capitan State Beach.

In addition to serving as Volunteer Trails Project Coordinator for the Trails Council, Mr. Cragg also leads volunteer trail projects for Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA), which works with Los Padres National Forest to help brush and maintain trails in our local backcountry. 

A resident of the Santa Ynez Valley, Mr. Cragg got back into hiking in 2009 while going through his divorce. “I’d always enjoyed being out in nature, but had gotten away from it raising a family, running a business, etc., and so getting out on the trails for me was a way to clear my head and sort things out.”  

While out hiking, like a number of hikers, he noticed that many of the trails were in need of maintenance. On his own he began picking up liter where he saw it, but realized that in order to clear brush along the overgrown trails he would need to involve others, and so began organizing trail projects. One of his first projects was brushing the trails near Zaca Lake. Through that project he was introduced to LPFA. His interest in helping improve trails at the Midland School Property introduced him to Santa Barbara County Trails Council, which was also looking at ways to improve the trails there. 

Not one to sit by idly, the latest project he’s has added to his volunteer endeavors is helping Los Padres National Forest digitize its collection of historic photos of the forest. This new project combines both Mr. Cragg’s love of the forest and interest in preserving the local history of our area.

<span style="font-familyFor more information about Santa Barbara Trails Council and how to help improve trail access along the Gaviota Coast go to, http://www.sbtrails.org, and for more information about upcoming volunteer trail projects and how to get involved go to https://www.meetup.com/Santa-Barbara-Trail-Volunteers/.

This article originally appeared in section A of today’s edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.


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