Meeting with County Parks Staff: On January 7th, 2022 as cold as it was, we met with the County Parks staff, Jon Menzies, Trail Coordinator and Todd Stepien, Cachuma Supervisor at the Live Oak Trail head to discuss the email sent last week. The following is a summary of the points in that 1/2/2022 email:
Santa Ynez River flow and equestrians and grazing permittee accessibility: The trailhead will be kept open to trail users when the river is flowing. Yesterday, when we were at the trailhead, two hikers decided that they could not cross the river safely and decided to try another day and left. The Park staff explained that this is no different than any other crossing on any other Forest or County Trail. If equestrians and hikers feel safe, they may cross. We agreed that this will be included in the Trail Management Plan for Live Oak Trail. They will be relying on equestrians and hikers to report any attempts to place rocks or other materials in the river to make crossing the creek easier, so if you see something, say something. Call the Rangers at 1 (805) 686-5055.
Trail Opening After Rains: We discussed a benchmark for when the trail would be reopened following rain closures. In most cases, the trail closes for rain and will open 3 (three) days following the last rainstorm. However, the staff are relying on equestrians to use their good judgment. For example, with the last rains over the holidays, the trail is open AND the soil is now super-saturated and could use a few more days to dry out due to low temperatures and cloudy conditions.
The Parks staff ask our equestrians to use the rule: “If you make a track, turn back”. They also invited equestrians when we've come all that way out to the trailhead and in your opinion feel it is too wet to ride the trail, to ride in the parking area to exercise our horse and to enjoy time with your horse in the quiet and solitude. We agreed that this will be included in the Trail Management Plan for Live Oak Trail.
“Trail closures” and signs: Parks Staff explained that the ability to open or maintain traditional trails lies with the US Bureau of Reclamation (the “landowner” – the Cachuma Recreation Area is leased from the Bureau by the County of Santa Barbara). Further, they explained that the “official” trails are on the map in the Cachuma Recreation Plan (RMP) and these are the only trails they are showing on their map posted at the kiosk at the trailhead as directed by the Bureau. To keep hikers on those “official” trails and in compliance with the Bureau’s direction, the carsonite “trail signs” were installed. The purpose is to “train” and direct hikers to stay on the official trail and minimize them getting lost. Recovering wayward hikers is a significant time sink for their staff.
I explained that our riders want to use all our traditional trails and the response was that policing the equestrians is not high on the priority list, but no real solution can be determined without the Bureau’s buy-in. Again, the staff asked equestrians to be good stewards of the trail, whatever that means to you. That being said, this is an issue we will have to table for now, keep an eye on it, and insist we be included in the discussions and decisions with the Bureau in the future. In a nutshell, the decision lies at a higher level than our group.
You might like to see the “Official” RMP Live Oak Trail Map (Figure 3.9-7) at https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/includes/documentShow.php?Doc_ID=5636 . You will have to scroll down to the end of the document to see it. Also, as you scroll down on this page, you’ll also notice an aerial figure that shows a horse camp at Live Oak Camp (Figure 3.9-3). This is the reason we are pushing for reinstatement of a horse camp at Live Oak. It’s in the RMP and would potentially be a revenue generator for the County. Notice also that Figure 3.9-6 shows ALL the equestrian trails.
Trail Maintenance and unauthorized trail work: We discussed at length trail maintenance and our concern with the County’s volunteer/consultant working on the trail and in the area, especially with the trail hydraulic grader/excavator. The staff were unaware that that machine was brought back beyond the gates earlier this year and its tracks could be observed traversing off-trail/roads and persisted throughout the year. In my recollection, there was trail weed-whacking and widening/grading done when this consultant/volunteer was supposed to only be mapping the existing trails. From my personal observations, much more was done. The Parks Staff will be looking into it on their end and I committed to looking into the matter from our equestrians’ collective memory. Please send any info you may have.
There is some confusion of who widened and graded the Hill Trail last year. If anyone has any information and/or photos of the track and/or the grader/excavator at the 4-way intersection of the Hill Trail and roads, would you mind sending them to me? Thanks in advance as this very important.
Parks staff remind equestrians if any vehicle and or equipment is seen on the trail, please call the Rangers at 1 (805) 686-5055. It may be the grazing permittee tending his herds, and of course is allowed back there, but you never know. Equestrian observations and reporting are key.
“No Trespassing”, “No Parking”, “No Dogs” etc., etc. signs: We discussed that the signs do little good for some people and the Parks staff maintain that this is one of the most effective tools they have. We all noted that the hikers seem to be policing their own and will point out the rules to offenders. For now, it’s in place and will work as it will or will not. For now, call the Rangers at 1 (805) 686-5055 for violations you observe and be safe. It’s OK to be friendly, but it’s not our job to engage the offenders.
Finally, we discussed the RMP and our respective takes on it. We had a planning discussion about the “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” (EIS) which the RMP is based on. This is a broad-brush analysis document that imagines multiple possibilities for the Cachuma Recreation Area and Live Oak Trail but allows for discretion in selection of specific activities as time goes on over its 20-year life, with certain follow-up actions before any action takes place. We discussed the following question:
Why couldn’t the public comments received at the time the RMP was approved (2010) be adequate for the introduction of hikers at Live Oak Trail?
I explained that it’s been over 10 years since those comments were received. The project – the decision to expand the users at Live Oak Trail - and the EIS document requires review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and implementation of the mitigation measures as part of the project.
The assumptions under the EIS, and to be in compliance with the RMP, CEQA review is specifically required because it anticipates any significant change would trip the requirement for public participation and review for a specific project. However, in the case of the Live Oak Trail, the public notice and participation was circumvented under the one case where that does not have to happen, that is, with filing of the CEQA Exemption on January 12, 2021. The flaws here are that staff made the decision, and the public and Board of Supervisors were never noticed of the project because there is no requirement to do so for an exemption under CEQA. Staff maintain their decision was correct, I explained equestrians disagree and that’s where we politely agreed to disagree.
Second point here is that the EIS laid out certain “mitigation measures” that were anticipated by the Board of Supervisors and the Bureau of Reclamation when they approved the EIS in 2012 that would be implemented before any project was put into practice under the RMP and must be fulfilled even under a CEQA exemption. None, as far as can be determined, had been completed before there were changes in the Live Oak Trail activities (April 15, 2021). The mitigation measures associated with each identified impact in the EIS usually must be addressed and implemented prior to any project moving forward.
One of these mitigation measures is a Trail Management Plan (attached). The Trail Management Plan we have been provided is incomplete and inadequate to address all the impacts identified in the EIS.
Why Live Oak Trail Management Plan couldn’t have a review process the same as Baron Ranch Trail Management Plan that occurred in Late 2019? The Park Staff took these comments under consideration and this discussion will continue in the future.
If you’re curious, you can see the mitigation measures in the RMP at https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/includes/documentShow.php?Doc_ID=5637 . Please scroll down to Page 4-23. Alternative 2 is the alternative the County is operating under and the one to pay attention to. It requires a bit of reading, but there are multiple areas, such as fire protection and wildlife impacts, that need to be included in and addressed in the Trails Management Plan. On Page 4-72, the impacts and mitigations are summarized to a certain degree.
If you have questions about these discussions, please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you see something, say something...please call the Rangers at 1 (805) 686-5055 and make a report.
It’s a complicated process and we’ll continue to keep you up to date as best we can.