Wednesday, December 21, 2022

2022/12/21 Winter Solstice Victory ride at Live Oak

The view we love, looking out from the Live Oak trail toward Lake Cachuma on the horizon.

The Horse and Mule Trail Riders in the 805 MeetUp was proud to organize a Winter Solstice celebratory ride to commemorate the recent judicial decision to return the Live Oak trails to EQUESTRIANS ONLY !
I did my part by drawing the logo above, and a small and persistent group of riders never gave up on turning back the agenda of the bureaucrats who wanted to open the trails to bikes. It will now remain the ONLY trail system in all of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties dedicated to use exclusively by equestrians.

Today we did a very simple ride, the recent rains had made the trails too wet for the past few weeks so we were just glad to be back out.
First step is going through the gate from the parking lot, and we can see a car parked that indicates hikers are on the trails. No change has been made in the signage yet, and the road gate into the area was wide open. We eagerly await things going to back the way they had been for 40 years, with a gate code, purchasing passes, and security on the trails.
Journalist Nick Welsh of The Independent summarized the judgement in favor of NOT opening the trails thus:

Efforts by the Santa Barbara County supervisors to allow hikers, joggers, dogs and cyclists to co-exist with horseback riders for the first time on The Live Oak Trail — located on the north side of Lake Cachuma — took a major fall last week in Judge Thomas Anderle’s courtroom, when Judge Anderle ruled the county violated the state laws governing environmental review and awarded the equestrians who sued $300,000 in legal fees for their pain.
Anderle, by far the most experienced Santa Barbara judge when it comes to environmental law, shredded the county’s argument that the project was exempt from environmental analysis because it fell within the purview of a major planning document on Lake Cachuma and its environs authored 12 years ago.
“Unpersuasive,” Anderle wrote multiple times of the county’s arguments that the impacts of expanded trail use were too minor to trigger an environmental impact report (EIR). “No evidence,” he added.
The upshot is that county planners can either appeal Anderle’s ruling or submit the plans to allow hikers and bikers to use the trail — long the exclusive domain of horseback riders — to the rigors of environmental analysis.
Anderle took pains to praise the legal briefs filed by both sides over a dispute that he characterized as having been contentious and acrimonious. If anything, he understated the heat of the battle. Last January, county planners issued what’s known as a “Notice of Exemption,” meaning that the project — opening up the trail to multiple uses — would not be subject to an EIR. If anyone objected, the county argued, they had 35 days to act.
Because of COVID, the Notice of Exemption could not be read at the County Clerk’s Office of the County Administration Building — the customary location — but was instead placed in the lobby of the County Administration Building. There was nothing at the time to notify members of the public of this change or that the doors to the Administration Building were locked and could be opened only by a county employee stationed inside.
Anderle mocked county arguments that the pertinent documents had been posted on a clipboard and placed on a table that was visible from the front door of the Administration Building. “The public’s right to challenge an action … cannot depend on their ability to peer through a glass door to read a clipboard lying flat on a table,” the judge ruled.
Likewise, the judge found sufficient evidence that the expansion of the trail to include new users might disrupt eagles nesting nearby. Roughly 75 equestrians use the trail per month, Anderle stated. By opening the trail to hikers in April 2021 as part of a pilot project, he said, that number shot up to 200 users. Although the plans included allowances for bike riders on the trail as well, they were never allowed. In addition, Anderle found that the trail appears to pass near or through “special status plant and bird locations.”
For equestrians who protested the decision to open up the trail to other users, the ruling marks an unadulterated victory. Their attorney Susan Petrovich was awarded legal fees of $300,000. They had fought the expansion of uses, arguing that the combination of horses, hikers, runners, and bikers in the same narrow quarters was inherently unsafe.
Supervisor Joan Hartmann — both a multi-trails advocate and an equestrian herself — stated, “I am disappointed with this outcome. It is the county policy to be inclusive and allow all user groups to use all public trails.” Hartmann said the county relied on the environmental analysis contained in the 2010 Cachuma Lake Resource Management Plan, which she said had been subjected to “extensive environmental review and public comment.”
Anderle noted that report had been prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation — a federal agency, not the County of Santa Barbara. That report, he added, stated the impacts of such a policy would be “minor, with the exception of conflicts among trail users,” but that there was no detailed or site-specific analysis provided.
For equestrians the issue is simple. In two entire counties this is the ONLY tiny trail system that we can ride without fear of being run down or smashed into by mountain bikes. When the "Pilot Project" was announced it was under the guise of an equity and inclusion agenda, saying everyone should be able to have access to all trails. But bikes can go on every other trail, many of which have now become simply too dangerous for equestrian use.

Today we rode out with a Grandfather who was patiently and carefully teaching his tiny Grandson to ride. He had a lead rope running over to the second horse, and his Grandson was a brave lad and obviously determined to live up to expectations.

But it turns out they'd been out riding the day before, and sometimes the tiny cowboy needed to get off and walk. Anyone who has experienced sore muscles from riding can be empathetic. 

Now, imagine a mountain biker with headphones in their ears blasting death metal careening at top speed around that corner, potentially spooking the horses and running over the boy. It is to prevent such dangerous "conflicts among trail users" that a very persistent group of us have been giving testimony at zoom meetings and in person. And for now, we have success.

And little Jameson never quit, although sometimes he got so slow walking that his Grandpa would hoist him back up in the saddle so they could keep up with the group.
The biggest change in Live Oak over the past decade is the death of such a large number of the venerable oaks. Ones like this that mark crossroads are struggling, and out on the plateau many are collapsing. We stick to the trails and tread lightly on the land.

It is my tradition to take portraits of everyone at the first overlook from which we observe Lake Cachuma.

Here first are today's very special riders: Grandpa Terry Brown on Sweetheart the Halflinger and Grandson Jameson Dzamba on Sneak the sorrel Quarterhorse.

CC Beaudette-Wellman on Woody the senior Quarterhorse/Paint


Jamie Buse on Mosca the Appendix Thoroughbred

and of course your author, Pat Fish on Tobe the Rocky Mountain mule

From there we proceeded on the winding trail down to the plateau.
Looking out inland you see pure California, no one home except some cows belonging to the Rancho San Fernando Rey and the wild creatures. As we slowly move by at 2.3mph the calm expanse of landscape leading up to the horizon refreshes the soul.
This sentinel stump marks a fork in the trail, leading off to the left to the riverside or to the right to the larger plateau. In the decades I have been riding here this hollow standing trunk gets smaller every year, among so many ghosts of trees I never knew.

The trail leads out onto this large open area, where we often see the resident cattle and bucking horses.
Today Tobe and Jamie both riveted on movement in the distance, close to the lake edge
a herd of deer, always such a please to observe, unconcerned about us this far away.
We chose to go only as far as an intersection where sometimes we continue on, committing to a 10 mile ride. But today since none of us, including the animals, were sufficiently "legged up" we opted to turn around at the 3 mile point.
Much better to ride frequently than to try for an endurance goal. Good companionship and safety are always the paramount concerns.
As soon as we turn back toward the starting point all the animals get a spring in their step. Until that moment they've been conserving their energy, not knowing what they'd be asked to do.
After years of trails together Tobe and Mosca and Woody are very much at ease on forays into the woods.
So we amble along, careful to avoid ground squirrel holes in the dirt, recognizing familiar landmarks from previous rides.
It seems as if in just the time from one ride and the next more oaks are dead. The man who runs the cattle and horses here tells me he is very busy repairing the border fences, where falling limbs and trees have crashed down on sections of fence. He also said he's been amazed at the number of times he's found gates wide open or "closed" in such a way that was very ineffectual. Before hikers were allowed on the land horse riders did not stray onto the Rancho San Fernando Rey land, but now he knows people are going through the gates because of the "creative" ways they attempt to close the gates behind them. First rule of a cowboy: leave a gate like you found it.
Sometimes vultures take notice of us and circle hopefully above.

We are unperturbed. Bad enough when we descend back into the City we will have to deal with politics and pandemics. Out here we respect the laws of nature, and we are just visitors and behave with respect.

Directly ahead is the gate to the Chalk Hill, a steep descent, and we opted not to do it in consideration of Woody, who is 26 years old and deserves to go slow and get lots of cookies and not strain himself. We took the long way around, back the way we had come.
One last look out at the lake, and then it is onward to the parking area and then home. It is very visibly low now, with a "bath tub ring" on the cliffs on the sides. But more rain is coming, and we can always hope the drought will break.
Just a few years ago this view toward the South-East would have been obscured by a stand of ancient oaks. They are all reduced to dead logs now, a reminder of the fugitive beauty of all things.
Back down a slope I always think of as Bobcat Alley, remembering a magical afternoon when I was privileged to sit and watch a beautiful bobcat pouncing on mice or ground squirrels here.
One of the last turns of the trail, looking out across the now abandoned golf course and the 154 to the coastal mountain range beyond.

And a look up into the Live Oak Camp, that equestrians dream could become a world-class attraction bringing horse and mule riders from all over. Managed on the same paradigm as the Montana de Oro horse camps, which are reserved well in advance all year round, it could be a significant income source for the County and a boost to tourism in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara. At present it is only rented for big weekend festivals like Lucidity and Reggae on the Mountain, and a few weddings, but with proper planning and the addition of pole paddocks on campsites it could be a big draw. IF, of course, it remains equestrian only.

A girl can hope! And meanwhile I will be riding here as often as possible and thinking positively that our jewel of a trail system will remain safe and serene.

So the organized horse and mule riders will be monitoring the Government activity, to see if they decide to spend tax dollars on an entire new EIR just to give bikers this last trail, or will they say leave well enough alone, keep it as it always has been. 

Just wonderful.


## PAT FISH ##

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