Live Oak Trail - Rider Concerns Letter 1/3/2022
Updated: Jan 17
Live Oak Trail Riders and Supporters-
Wishing you all a Happy New Year! Live Oak hasn't been far from our minds during the holidays and we sent the email below to the County staff (Jon Menzies, Todd Stepin, Jeff Lindgren, George Chapian), Supervisor Joan Hartmann and CRAHTAC Members, in the hope of proactively addressing issues that you have raised over the past few months and in anticipation of the management of trail access for equestrians after the rains.
It's going to be a year of continually keeping the Trail in front of the decision makers and speaking up and getting a "place at the table" to raise equestrian issues for trail policy and planning. I'll try and do better to keep you all up to date. If you have questions, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get back to you ASAP.
Good morning and welcome back!
Happy new year and I hope you had a happy holiday with family and friends. I've recovered from surgery and have been doing some background research and monitoring for the Live Oak Trail during my down time over the holidays.
It was nice to get such gentle rain over the last couple weeks, but it is hard not to have the Live Oak trail available to ride. Monday will be the third day after the last rain day and our riders are anxious to know when the trail will reopen. We anticipate a dialogue and discussion is necessary to keep the trial accessible to equestrians and the grazing permittee as grandfathered uses, especially when the Santa Ynez River is flowing - as it has been almost annually for the entire history of the trail – and while the high water makes the trail unsafe and inaccessible to hikers. Our riders suggest the following:
The gate to the trailhead should remain closed and locked. We strongly suggest using the original method to grant equestrians access to the trailhead, that is, riders call into the kiosk, obtain the gate code and call when we leave the trailhead following our ride. Once the river goes down, then the County can revert to the iron ranger system for the remainder of the “Pilot Project” or longer. This would ensure hiker safety until the water recedes and allows unimpeded equestrian access to the Live Oak Trail.
We would be happy to discuss other options with you as well. As equestrians had pointed out prior to the implementation of the “Pilot Project” almost a year ago, the ability to restrict hikers and allow continued equestrian riding is important to our riders and will likely be an annual scenario when there is water in the river, and it is necessary to negotiate a workable process that will become part of the Trail Management Plan for the Live Oak Trail. We can’t put it off any longer, the time is here.
On another issue, having learned from observation and documentation of activities undertaken by the Parks Department’s consultant/volunteer last year prior to expanding the trails and the trail’s use to hikers in April, and in the spirit of providing education on the requirements and needs of equestrians and compliance with environmental regulations, we point out that any method to enhance access (hiker or other) across the Santa Ynez River requires approvals from additional Federal and State regulatory agencies.
The Santa Ynez River is considered “waters of the United States” and as such any activity, construction, grading or filling (including rock or soil removal or relocation), or discharge requires a Section 404 permit or exemption from the United States Army Corps of Engineers under the Federal Clean Water Act. Further, for any of the above-mentioned activities, a Section 401 Water Quality Certification is required from the Regional Water Quality Control Board under the California Clean Water Act. These activities include moving rocks around below the high-water mark in the riverbed (i.e., to provide “steppingstones”), and especially if such activities will be accomplished with any type of mechanized equipment. The County’s Flood Control District planners and maintenance staff are very familiar with these processes and would be a good source of information. Alternatively, we can provide further information on these two permitting processes, if needed.
Our riders are also concerned about trail maintenance following the rains. In our letters and comments made at public meetings last year, we mentioned several times that the “Hill Trail” had been widened and no water bars or other adequate erosion controls were in place on that section of trail following Parks volunteer/consultant’s use of a trail hydraulic grader/excavator on that trail last December 2000-February 2021. This trail is of primary concern as the grazing permittee, we assume as he has done for decades, will continue to do maintenance on the ranch roads but only equestrian riders used the Hill Trail and had it had only been maintained intermittently, when needed. Equestrians have not had access to the trails since the last storms, but we are extremely interested in being active as the lead partner in the evaluation and maintenance of the Live Oak Trails. We are prepared to partner with a local organization that will construct the trail in accordance with the Forest Service standards for hikers and equestrians – without rolling tread, banks or jumps, typically designed to facilitate mountain bike speed. We wish to open discussions and explore options for trail maintenance, define a process, timing, and funding.
The “trail closures” and signs have been a point of concern among our riders. Equestrians have been riding all ranch roads on the north shore for decades and have taken issue with what is perceived as closing trails. It’s our hope that the new signs will reduce the number of lost hikers, but the equestrians will likely continue to use the traditional routes out of habit. We understand that the restriction has come from the US Bureau of Reclamation, and perhaps it is time to request a site visit from their staff to identify the trails and clarify that all ranch road trails have been in use. It's also necessary to install improvements such as the hitching posts at picnic areas and picnic area additions. It's vital that representatives from our riders and the grazing permittee be included as part of this site visit and discussion.
Finally, the November data count you Jon provided was quite useful and I thank you for that. May I also get a copy of the data counts for the trial in December? Also, would you please provide us with the incident reports Rangers have taken beginning in April? Thank you in advance. I’m sure you’ve been made aware of the incident report I made last week while the trail was closed concerning illegal parking and possible trespass to the trailhead and the adjacent golf course property. I encountered one couple coming from the direction of the golf course apparently exercising their unruly dog there. People are not respecting the signs (“No Trespassing”, “No Parking”, “No Dogs”) without active enforcement and this is another impact area that warrants our discussion.
Please contact me and let me know when the trail will be open to riders and to arrange a time for a discussion to develop a workable process for equestrian access during periods of flowing water in the river, trail maintenance, discuss trespass and enforcement, and to maintain open trail access.
Thank you again for your time and all you do, and our riders look forward to working with you in 2022. We appreciate your openness to learn from our riders’ experience and familiarity with the north shore of the Lake and to address our concerns.
Kathy Rosenthal 2022 President
Santa Ynez Valley Riders