HISTORY OF BUCKHORN TRAIL
Buckhorn Trail is located in the 1.95 million acres of protected land that makes up Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara, California. The trail creates a loop from Little Pine to Camuesa dirt roads, crossing the Buckhorn and Indian Creeks, and offering some of the most stunning and accessible views into the Dick Smith wilderness area in the backcountry of Los Padres National Forest. The trail can be connected to the Gibraltar Mine Trail for a 34-mile loop that was designated by the International Montain Biking Assocation (IMBA) as an ‘IMBA Epic’ Trail (https://www.imba.com/epics/buckhorn-trail).
The Santa Ynez River was once the site of the largest steelhead fish run south of San Francisco. In the 1940s, California Fish and Game (now CA Fish and Wildlife) designated Buckhorn Creek as a major spawning water for steelhead. This was limited by the building of the Gibraltar dam in 1920, and completely destroyed by the Cachuma Dam in 1953. Today the creek bed is dry except in times of flooding.
The Zaca Fire in July 2007 and subsequent severe storm damage made the trail largely impassable, and it has been closed since. In 2015, SBMTV began work in partnership with REI and Los Padres Forest Association to reopen Buckhorn Trail along the original trail bed.
BUCKHORN PROJECT DESCRIPTION
The project can be divided into three sections:
- The first 1.6 miles from Little Pine Road to the canyon floor and dry creek bed is the most challenging with dense, overgrown brush and largely destroyed trail bed. We focused on this area first, hiring Los Padres Forest Association to do a first rough brushing. We followed up with additional brushing from our volunteers before a hired Trail Solutions expert from IMBA came in with mini- and micro-excavators to cut a contour trail over the initial trail bed. Trail finishing work was done by volunteers using hand tools to create as sustainable a trail as possible, within the confines of the original trail bed and trail corridor.
- The second 2.9 mile section follows the canyon floor, traversing back and forth across the dry creek bed along the site of the prior trail. This section will require light brushing, much less than the first section, and rebenching with a micro-excavator. Because this section does not have the steep terrain and multiple switchbacks of the first section, this will be much less work.
- The trail then connects at Lower Buckhorn Campground to the Indian Creek Trail, which connects to Camuesa Road. Volunteer crews will do final work on the full trail including Indian Creek to be sure the entire loop is in top shape for all user groups.
SUSTAINABLE TRAIL DESIGN
Sustainable trail design reduces the economic, social and environmental impacts of trails. Techniques for reducing erosion by the addition of water control features can translate into a dramatic reduction in resources needed to maintain the trail, particularly in our area where trails are subject to periods of severe dryness followed by rapid rainfall. A sustainable trail is designed to encourage users to travel in the middle of the trail, preventing trail widening and the formation of environmentally harmful side trails. This leads to improved maintenance, and decreases the impact of the trail on the surrounding environment. Finally, this style of design modulates user speed and opens sight lines to reduce user conflict. Through all of these techniques, sustainable trail design is able to improve the experience of all trail users, reduce maintenance needs, and extend the life of a trail.
Due to environmental restrictions, Buckhorn will be rebuilt on the original trail bed, limiting how much we can apply the modern, sustainable techniques that have transformed trail building. However, as much as possible the principles of sustainable trail design will be applied in Buckhorn’s reopening. For more on sustainable trail design, visit (IMBA website link: https://www.imba.com/resources/trail-building/designing-and-building-sustainable-trails)
Currently, excavator work has been completed in the first section to the fourth switchback, 1.2 miles down the trail. Finishing work has been completed to 1 mile, and initial brushing has been completed to 1.4 miles. Work stopped for the summer due to fire restrictions and heat. In the fall, after fire restrictions have been lifted by the Forest Service, we will begin with additional brushing to the creek bed and final excavator work in this section. The next step will be to brush then cut the trail along the creek bed.
SBMTV’s largest donor for this project has been REI. REI has supported SBMTV in many ways, including multiple large donations toward the re-opening of Buckhorn Trail. We have also received donations from community members totaling over $10,000, and a generous in kind donation of micro-excavator use.