Tuesday, June 2, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 13

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 11th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 28 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 28

The county is studying possible trail routes connecting Gaviota to Guadalupe

By Zac Ezzone

State and local officials are attempting to overcome the remaining roadblocks to finish the 1,200-mile trail connecting the California coast. It’s been 40 years in the making, and about 60 percent of the project is currently finished. Many of the remaining gaps in the California Coastal Trail are in northern Santa Barbara County and other parts of the state’s southern half.

To help create plans to address this local gap, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) is overseeing a study to identify a preferred route for the trail in the northern half of the county that hikers and bikers can take from Gaviota to Guadalupe. 

The Santa Barbara County Trails Council, which is conducting the study, held its first public workshop to discuss potential routes on May 29 in Lompoc, Executive Director Mark Wilkinson said. The council is using input from that meeting to identify preferred routes for the trail that it will present at a future public workshop.

In the past, the amount of private land lining the coast in the north half of the county—including the roughly 40 miles occupied by Vandenberg Air Force Base—has made it difficult to identify a trail route. Cea Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk California Coastal Trail Association, said the county isn’t alone in dealing with this obstacle, but the issue may be more significant here.

“Santa Barbara County is unique in that the inaccessible areas of the coast are all adjacent to one another, so that creates a longer section of coastline where the coastal trail is a challenge,” Higgins said.

The California Coastal Trail was first introduced as a state mandate in 1972, with the passage of Proposition 20. The voter-driven ballot measure said that “a hiking, bicycle, and equestrian trails system shall be established along or near the coast.” The proposition also created the California Coastal Commission to regulate development along the state’s coast.  

The proposition was reinforced four years later when the state Legislature passed the Coastal Act of 1976, which created the California Coastal Conservancy. This non-regulatory agency is tasked with supporting projects to protect coastal resources and increase opportunities for the public to access the coast. 

Conservancy project manager Timothy Duff said the California Coastal Trail is the agency’s primary public access program.

More than 20 years after the Legislature passed the Coastal Act of 1976, the state passed Senate Bill 908 to reinvigorate its effort to complete the trail. As required by the legislation, the coastal conservancy released a report in 2003 titled “Completing the California Coastal Trail,” which recommended statewide policy initiatives and potential projects to develop the trail.

According to this report, the trail should be located close enough to the shore that its users can sense the ocean, but Duff acknowledged that’s not always possible.

“The goal is to keep it within sight, sound, and smell of the coast,” Duff said. “Sometimes that isn’t possible because of private property or topography, but the goal is to keep it as close to the coast as possible.”

Based on current land ownership, meeting these requirements in northern Santa Barbara County is impossible. Therefore, the study will identify an interim route for the trail that can be adjusted if publicly accessible land opens up closer to the coast in the future, SCBAG senior transportation planner Brian Bresolin said. 

The Santa Barbara County Trails Council is looking at a potential route along Highway 1 and other roadways with spur trails that provide access to the coast at various points, including Ocean Beach County Park and Point Sal State Beach. The proposed route would start at Gaviota State Park and extend until the county line just north of Guadalupe. 

Wilkinson said that based on the first workshop, the trail won’t simply serve as a way to get from point A to point B, but rather it will be a braided network of trails that hikers and bikers can use to access different areas. For example, he said, the trails council is looking at whether there’s a way to connect Los Flores Ranch to Orcutt Hills and then to Highway 1 to travel to Lompoc.   

“There’s a couple of logical routes and that could be the end of the story,” he said, “but the community interest is, ‘If I’m here, how do I get there? What’s a day hike look like that I can engage more areas than just my backyard?’”

After the trails council completes its study, a draft will be released to the public for further input. Bresolin said he anticipates that a final study will be presented to the SBCAG board sometime in early 2020.

The study itself won’t require that specific suggestions be followed immediately, Bresolin said. Rather, it’ll serve as a planning tool that jurisdictions can refer to as they work on future projects or to reference to leverage funding. The study will identify one route that the region can focus its energy on.

Wilkinson said the study is a starting point, but he noted that the trails identified could take more than a decade to develop.

Higgins of Coastwalk, a nonprofit established in 1983 that advocates for the completion of the trail, said it’s important that the trail is finished so the public has access to the coastline everywhere in the state.

“I look at it as this ribbon of protection,” Higgins said. “That blue-green ribbon of protection up and down our California coast that preserves natural resources also preserves public access.” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.

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