Mountain lion makes rare successful crossing of L.A.-area freeways

Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times online, August 7, 2017

Researchers recently documented a rare case of a cougar from the Santa Monica Mountains successfully crossing U.S. Highway 101 and moving into a range less hemmed in by Southern California sprawl, the National Park Service said Monday.

An April 4, 2017, photo released by the National Park Service shows P-55, a young male mountain lion, after he was caught and outfitted with a GPS tracking device.

The subadult male, dubbed P-55, crossed the 101 early July 30 along the steep Conejo Grade about 45 miles west of downtown Los Angeles. P-55 also crossed State Routes 23 and 118 to reach the Santa Susana Mountains, a park service statement said.

It is only the fourth known successful crossing of the 101 in the 15 years researchers have been studying the big cats in the Santa Monica Mountains, a population dealing with inbreeding and a lack of genetic diversity because the mountain range is hemmed in by Los Angeles, its western suburbs and the Pacific Ocean.

Male mountain lions need vast individual territories. But the fragmented wilderness of the Santa Monica Mountains and the massive barrier of the 101 — three or more lanes in each direction — is a significant hindrance to dispersal.

The freeway and other roads are life-threatening to the region’s lions: There have been 17 documented deaths on roadways since 2002.

“The overwhelming pattern we’ve observed through GPS tracking is lions coming up to the edge of a freeway and turning around,” said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which sprawls over 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline.

Male mountain lions usually leave their mothers at about age 1 to find their own territories. While a male can live with many females in its territory, it will face potentially fatal battles with other males if it can’t disperse.

So far in the study, it’s rare for a male mountain lion in the Santa Monicas to survive past age 2, according to the park service.

P-55 had recently been fitted with a tracking collar and was seen on video in the backyard of a Newbury Park home the same weekend he crossed the 101.

One proposal to help mountain lions more easily move between the Santa Monica range and the less-confined natural areas to the north would involve building a bridge for wildlife to cross the 101 at Liberty Canyon, which has open space on each side of the highway and is under permanent protection.

This article was from the Associated Press.

Posted in Conejo Valley, Federal NPS, Los Angeles, Mountain Lions, Santa Monica Mountains, Southern California, Ventura County | Leave a comment

New Landowner in Matilija Canyon Causing Trail Access Problems

Source of this article, Los Padres Forest Watch, July 31, 2017

The posts were placed in the road itself, causing a violation notice to be issued by Ventura County. Photo by Luke Williams

In early July, ForestWatch received an anonymous tip that the new owner of the Dent House property at the end of Matilija Canyon Road was constructing a new gate across the road and notifying hikers that they were trespassing along the public access easement.

The property, which was recently purchased by Ojai resident and B&B owner Calvin Zara, encompasses several acres along either side of Matilija Canyon Road. For decades, the general public has enjoyed a right-of-way access easement across this property granted to the Forest Service in 1933. Those on foot and horse have been able to travel along the road through the property to access North Fork Matilija Creek Trail and other areas in the Los Padres National Forest.

As the property was changing hands this month, the new owner began constructing a gate across Matilija Canyon Road just east of their property line, on what appears to be national forest land. This gate would block the existing Forest Service gate there. The Ventura County Public Works Agency promptly issued an encroachment notice to Mr. Zara, as the posts were installed in the pavement in the actual road right-of-way. The new property owner will likely have to remove the posts and fix the damage to the road.

We have also received reports that the owner is warning hikers legally passing through the property that they are trespassing. Our attorneys have drafted a letter to the owner informing them of the existing easement and ordering them to cease and desist all attempts to restrict access through the property.

This development comes nearly a year after we settled a lawsuit against another Matilija Canyon landowner who had been restricting access to nearby Matilija Falls after the public had enjoyed access along a trail for more than a century. Our lawsuit resulted in a permanent trail easement to the falls and the trail is currently being re-established there.

We will continue to fight this and other attempts to restrict the public’s access to areas in the Los Padres National Forest. Check back to our website for new postings about this issue or sign up for our mailing list to get monthly updates.

Posted in Hiking, History, Horse Riding, Ojai, Trail Access | Leave a comment

Riders learn courtesy on trails

Bike clinic offers adventure on two wheels

Source of this article, The Thousand Oaks Acorn, July 13, 2017

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CYCLING IN THE HILLS—Cyclists who want to go mountain biking can learn skills as well as etiquette at a free clinic offered the first Saturday of the month at Malibu Creek State Park. GRAHAM MARTIN

“Loose, low and look” was the advice Mark Langton gave to a dozen cyclists as they navigated a tricky obstacle during a July 1 mountain bike skills clinic at Malibu Creek State Park.

A low, relaxed posture allows riders to maintain control of their bikes as they negotiate twists and turns over uneven terrain, Langton said. Looking ahead keeps the cyclists focused on the trail and aware of danger.

The 12 riders came from throughout the region to participate in the free class so they could learn to master the basics of backcountry trail riding.

Langton, a founding board member of the Concerned Off- Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA), has been teaching the monthly program since 1992.

The nonprofit group was founded in 1987 to advocate for shared use of the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. The skills clinics are part of CORBA’s efforts to foster a good relationship between mountain bikers and other trail users.

“There are always new people coming out, and there are two simple things people can do to coexist on the trails: Slow down, and let people know you’re coming,” Langton told attendees at the start of the recent class.

Trails have brush and blind corners, and since bikes are quiet they can spook hikers, dogs and horses. Ringing a bell is the best way to let others to know a bicyclist is coming, Langton said.

“I’m not saying don’t go fast, I’m saying go slow around other people and be careful around blind corners,” he said.

After a discussion of backcountry preparedness, shared-use etiquette and simple maintenance tips, Langton led riders through a series of drills. They learned the proper riding position, how to control their braking and maneuver at slow speeds, and gear use for climbing and descending.

The Thousand Oaks bike instructor said off-road cycling is increasingly popular because it gives people a sense of adventure in the great outdoors.

“It flips the kid switch in adults,” he said.

Throughout the class, he and co-instructor Ezra Dweck answered questions and watched as each rider tested their new skills on various terrains.

Aside from promoting safe and courteous bike riding, CORBA helps to build and maintain trails to improve backcountry accessibility for all users. The group also helped to create the Mountain Bike Unit, a volunteer program that works in partnership with local park agencies to patrol trails, guide visitors and ensure people follow the rules.

The group was originally formed to deal with the concerns of people who felt that mountain bikes weren’t an appropriate use of backcountry trails in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Teaching the free clinic is Langton’s way of giving back to the parks, he said.

The recent three-hour clinic ended with a short trail ride into Malibu Creek State Park so participants could put their new skills to the test.

“When going downhill, stay low, let the bike roll—use both brakes and a deep jockey position but don’t stop,” Langton told riders before they went down a short, rocky path near the Rock Pool.

The classes are held the first Saturday of the month starting at 9 a.m. No reservations are needed.

“I think it’s a great program at a nice location,” said Ken Weiner, a Del Rey resident who grew up in Agoura Hills.

He came to the class with his 9-year-old son, Max.

“The thing I liked the most was going down the stairs,” Max said.

The next class will take place Aug. 5. For more information about CORBA and its programs, visit www.corbamtb.com.

Posted in California State Parks, Health and Safety, Mountain Biking, Santa Monica Mountains | Leave a comment

Conservancy grant enough to complete Sapwi Trails in Thousand Oaks

CRPD project to receive $1.67M

Source of this article, the Thousand Oaks Acorn, June 29, 2017

he only community park in Thousand Oaks’ master plan that remains undeveloped is one step closer to breaking ground.

The advisory committee for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has approved a $1.67-million grant for Conejo Recreation and Park District to complete Sapwi Trails Community Park in the Lang Ranch area of the city.

The committee’s June 26 vote put the last piece of the funding puzzle in place for the $7-million project. The grant’s approval means the park can be built all at once instead of in phases.

The SMMC grant will be provided out of Proposition 1 money. Prop. 1 was a 2014 voter approved water bond measure that made about $1.5 billion available for grants for watershed protection.

CRPD parks and planning administrator Tom Hare said Lang Ranch Creek runs through the northern portion of the park and the project includes plans to restore the creek and promote watershed health.

“The project as proposed is a great example of what the Prop. 1 grant is all about,” he said.

The approximately 144-acre park—bordered on the west by Erbes Road, on the north by Avenida de Los Arboles and on the east by Westlake Boulevard— will largely remain in its natural state, but some infrastructure, including parking lots, restrooms, shade structures, picnic tables and a playground will be built on park grounds. Additional capital improvements will include a pedestrian path along the length of the park on Westlake Boulevard, four bridges that cross Lang Creek and some storm water containment projects.

The SMMC grant isn’t the first big boost the Sapwi Trails project has received. The Thousand Oaks City Council voted at its April 11 meeting to kick in $2.5 million from its general fund reserves toward the project, a first-of-its-kind recreation area for the park district.

Construction is expected to start in the summer, and CRPD expects the entire project to be finished by winter 2019.

“We’re ready to roll, Construction drawings are almost done,” Hare said. “We’re out to bid next month.”

Posted in Budget and Spending, Conejo Valley, COSCA/CRPD, Environment, SMM Conservancy, Trail Building and Repair | Leave a comment

Story of the Conejo Valley written in peaks, bluffs and ridges

How an ancient river of magma shaped the Conejo Valley

Source of this article, the Thousand Oaks Acorn, June 22, 2017

As it travels west out of the Conejo Valley, the 101 Freeway works its way down the Conejo Hills in the shadow of Conejo Mountain. At 1,800 feet tall, the peak separating Thousand Oaks from Camarillo is the highest point in the Conejo Hills.

But as formidable as the slope may seem to motorists today, it pales in comparison to its ancient self.

The mountain, and others in the region, was once three times as tall, a discovery made during construction of the Westlake Village Costco in 1996. Earth movers uncovered ancient fossils, including pine cones that could only have grown at an elevation of 8,000 feet.

William Bilodeau, a professor of geology at Cal Lutheran University, where the cones are now kept, said the fossils were an important find.

“It really painted the picture of what the ancient Conejo Valley looked like,” he said. “It was a window into the past.”

Volcanic activity

The discovery was a glimpse into the natural forces behind the Conejo Valley and its sculptural landscape dominated by peaks, bluffs and slopes.

In the southwest corner of the valley, Mount Boney stands at just over 2,800 feet above sea level, but 24 million years ago, the landscape was flat—nothing but sea floor, Bilodeau said.

The movement of tectonic plates changed all that.

As the Pacific Plate started to press against the North American Plate, the tremendous crushing weakened rocks near the surface, allowing a channel of magma to flow from inside the earth onto the ocean floor.

As it cooled under the coastal waves, the lava hardened into distinctive pillow formations, a telltale sign of underwater volcanism.

“The beaches were a little farther east back then and Thousand Oaks had this shoreline. You can see pillow basalt formations along the Backbone Trail in Circle X Ranch,” he said.

Pillow basalts are also visible on Yerba Buena Road.

The molten-hot magma bubbled up for 3 million years, creating multiple volcanoes, some of which rose above sea level before being resubmerged, Bilodeau said.

A cross section of a 17-million year-old volcano found near Kanan and Agoura roads is referred to as the “Bowels of Hades” or “Gates of Hell” because this portion preserves the conduit through which molten rock flowed to the surface.

Volcanic activity ended 15 million years ago, according to research by the National Park Service. Since then, wind and time have reduced Mount Boney and Conejo Mountain to a third of their original size, and only the densest rock—the rock that ultimately clogged the volcanic vent—remains.

“The last eruption plugged its throat,” Bilodeau said. “The rock that plugged the volcano is the mountain we see today.”

The rocks the volcanoes produced, known as the Conejo Volcanics, are unique because they contain limestone embedded with oyster shells and other marine fossils like barnacles, fish scales and wood. Most volcanic rock does not contain fossils.

n some places in the western Santa Monica Mountains, including Boney Ridge and the Conejo Hills, evidence of volcanic activity can still be seen. At 3,114 feet, Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica range.

Despite what its name suggests, Sandstone Peak is made of a type of volcanic igneous rock called andesite.

“From Kanan and west along Boney Ridge is volcanic rock,” Bilodeau said. “But they’re all tilted and folded and deformed since then.”

Rotating mountains

For millions of years after the area’s last volcanic activity, layers of sediment were deposited on top of the dense volcanic rock as tectonic forces pushed Earth’s crust higher.

The resulting mountain range was a rock formation with a north-south orientation. But in the ages that followed, the mountains began to drift until they were oriented east-west, one of only two mountain ranges in North America to do so. (The Uinta Mountains of Utah is the other.)

“It was a time of rotation,” Bilodeau said. “The western Santa Monica Mountains didn’t start to look like they do now until 3 (million) or 4 million years ago.”

As tectonic plate boundaries rotated, they pulled the crust apart, separating Baja California from the mainland and crushing the crust underneath the layers of volcanic and sedimentary rock, creating what we know as the Santa Monica Mountains, he said.

Rocking views

The Conejo Volcanics aren’t the only rocks in town.

Because the Conejo Valley is near the boundary of an active fault system, multiple ancient rock formations have been folded into the local bedrock like marble cake.

Looking at a geologic map of Thousand Oaks, the city is bisected approximately along Moorpark Road, with the western half of the city sitting on Conejo Volcanics and much of the rest on the Monterey Formation, an oil-rich sedimentary rock that is the source of most of California’s known oil.

The Topanga Canyon Formation is much older than the Conejo Volcanics and underlies much of its volcanic material. It is usually light gray, tan or brown sandstone. Composed of marine sedimentary rocks, the Topanga Canyon Formation makes up most of Sycamore Canyon, Wildwood Regional Park and Hidden Valley. It can also be seen in road cuts along Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

“You can see it along PCH, as well,” Bilodeau said.

Anthony Bevilacqua is a park ranger for the National Park Service. He said hikers can enjoy many of the area’s geologic resources from the trail.

“There are some amazing sights out there, no matter what you’re looking for,” he said.

To explore areas of volcanic bedrock, he recommended the hike to Sandstone Peak.

To see fossil remains, Bevilacqua recommended Eagle Rock Trail and Red Rock Canyon in Topanga State Park.

For dramatic wind-and-erosion carved sandstone, the ranger said to try the Castro Crest area next to the Corral Canyon parking lot.

Fossils can also be seen on the Mesa Peak fire road.

Zach Behrens is a communications fellow with the National Park Service. He said park rangers offer tours of natural points of interest. On one such guided hike recently, Behrens said, he discovered his new favorite trail.

He recommends the Backbone Trail between Mishe Mokwa and Encinal Canyon.

“I love going out to the western end to see the volcanics,” he said. “It’s the Sedona of Malibu.”

A geologic survey of the Santa Monica Mountains is available at nps.gov.

Posted in Conejo Valley, Federal NPS, History, Other, Santa Monica Mountains | Leave a comment

Mountains fund celebrates champions of preservation

Pavley, Parks among 11 female honorees

Source of this article, the Thousand Oaks Acorn, May 18, 2017

Spring showers and a Chumash prayer ushered in the who’s who of environmental champions honored at the second annual Santa Monica Mountains Fund spring celebration May 7 at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas.

Activities were held in the Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at the ranch.

Organizers of this year’s event showcased the dedication of 11 female leaders whose contributions helped save open space, preserve wildlife habitat, protect endangered plant and animal species, and address myriad other challenges that threaten life in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Sara Nelson Horner, president of the SAMO Fund, talked about Mother Earth.

“This natural world is our mother,” she said. “It’s a safe, good place to be.”

State Sen. Henry Stern opened the festivities, saying that he was inspired to run for office because of the work that local environmentalists tackled over the years. Stern, who worked as a senior policy adviser for state Sen. Fran Pavley, ran for the Senate seat when his boss retired.

“I ran for office because of these mountains,” Stern said. “They’re big enough and important enough to fight for.”

Stern said the current federal administration is proposing cuts to environmental protections and, despite the political climate, environmentalism is about values.

Assembly member Richard Bloom congratulated the group of women on their environmental work.

Kate Kuykendall, the acting deputy superintendent of the National Park Service in Los Angeles, was in attendance, too.

The women honored were called up one by one.

Pavley, the first mayor of Agoura Hills, a two-term assembly member and two- term state senator, has fought for the environment on many fronts over the decades. She authored 160 bills that were signed into law that tackled clean energy, global warming, oil and gas fracking, and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few.

“ I’m really proud of the Santa Monica Mountains Fund for their good work,” Pavley said.

According to SAMO member Peter Nelson, honoree Beth Pratt Bergstrom, California director of the National Wildlife Federation, has made the mountain lion known as P-22 “a poster boy in the campaign to protect pumas.”

The male cougar known as P-22 became the focus of Pratt Bergstrom’s campaign to build a wildlife crossing in Agoura Hills because he survived a journey from the Santa Monica Mountains across two Los Angeles freeways to his new home in Griffith Park. The cougar is now trapped within the confines of the park with plenty to eat but scant chance of finding a mate in such a small space.

The wildlife crossing, Pratt Bergstrom said, will allow pumas to safely cross into neighboring mountain ranges to expand their territories and genetically diversify.

The other honorees:

Linda Parks, Ventura County supervisor

Mary Sue Maurer, mayor of the City of Calabasas

Rorie Skei, chief deputy director for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy

Mary Wiesbrock, founder of Save Open Space

Suzanne Goode, natural resource program manager for the California Department of Parks and Recreation

Julie Newsome, wildlife campaigner and event organizer

Josephine Powe, open space campaigner and advocate

Mary Ellen Strote, writer and Santa Monica Mountains advocate

Nancy Helsley, community environmental education coordinator

Margot Feuer, Jill Swift and Susan Nelson, founding mothers of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, were remembered for their work to protect the local mountains for posterity.

Over 100 guests took part in the festivities that included music, food and a silent auction.

Leah Culberg, a member of SAMO and a longtime mountain resident, said the SAMO Fund supports the education, science and resource protection efforts of the National Park Service.

The group, she said, has facilitated over 15,000 visits by fourth-graders to the mountains as part of their “Every Kid in a Park” program and administered a youth program to support college-bound students from underserved communities.

In addition to developing and maintaining mountain trails, the nonprofit group has supported scientific research in the park, including studies on mountain lions and red-legged frogs.

Posted in Calabasas, California State Parks, Environment, Mountain Lions, Santa Monica Mountains, SMM Conservancy, Ventura County | Leave a comment

Neighbors suffer Wildwood woes in Thousand Oaks

Nearby streets fill with visitors’ cars

Source of this article, the Thousand Oaks Acorn, April 27, 2017

Wildwood Regional Park might have too much of a good thing.

KEEP OUT—A sign instructs hikers not to park on Wildwood streets.

Drawn to the open-space area by its main attraction, Paradise Falls, weekend crowds quickly overwhelm the small dirt parking lot at the main trailhead at the western end of Avenida de Los Arboles and spill out into the neighborhood.

To visitors, parking a few blocks up the street is a small inconvenience on the path to a rare natural feature.

But to residents of the area, it’s a popularity headache.

Wildwood resident Mark Lichalk took to the podium at the April 20 Conejo Recreation and Park District board of directors meeting seeking a solution.

“It’s infringing on the neighborhood,” he said.

Wildwood Park is owned and managed by the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency, which is run jointly by the City of Thousand Oaks and CRPD.

And while Thousand Oaks is a community of 120,000 people, Wildwood actually serves a population of 1 million to 2 million because it is a regional park, CRPD Manager Jim Friedl said.

“Social media posts about the falls are driving the visitors,” he said.

Friedl said the park district has asked hiking and nature websites to refrain from promoting Paradise Falls in an effort to quell traffic, but new posts on other websites have popped up to tout the virtues of the falls.

“It’s like whack-a-mole,” he said.

Maintaining a balance between letting visitors enjoy the falls and keeping its delicate landscape intact is a big challenge as more people come.

A major problem is parking.

According to a survey taken by the park district April 15, the parking lot at the western end of Avenida de Los Arboles was full— with 93 cars—before 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday. Dozens of hikers then began parking on neighborhood streets, despite posted signs informing visitors about additional lots down the street.

NOT IN MY BACKYARD—Cars line the streets near Wildwood Park. New parking restrictions have been put into place.

Visitors to Wildwood can also access trails to Paradise Falls from Wildflower Playfields and Wildwood Neighborhood Park, as well as Wildwood Elementary School. There is also open street parking with no residential driveways on Canna Street just north of Avenida de Los Arboles.

Safety is another concern.

CRPD administrator Tom Hare said jumping off Paradise Falls is the top search engine result for the park.

“We want people to enjoy Wildwood, but we want them to be safe,” he said.

The water cascading down Paradise Falls includes urban runoff, as it is less than a mile upstream from the Hill Canyon wastewater facility in the Santa Rosa Valley. Posted signs warn visitors of the untreated water, but hikers still venture out into the pool at the base of the falls.

Lichalk said he would like to see hikers better educated about the variety of hiking trails in Thousand Oaks. COSCA manages 40 open space areas with 150 miles of trails.

Wildwood has just 17 of those miles.

“We need to do a better job of getting the word out about places to hike other than Wildwood,” he said.

“I don’t want to deter hikers from coming to Thousand Oaks. I want to distribute them more evenly around our trails, many of which sit empty.”

For a list of open space areas to hike, visit COSCA’s website, www.conejo-openspace.org

Posted in Conejo Valley, COSCA/CRPD, Health and Safety, Hiking, Horse Riding, Mountain Biking, Traffic | Leave a comment

Thousand Oaks council votes to shoulder cost of community park

Work on Sapwi Trails to start soon

Source of this article, the Thousand Oaks Acorn, April 20, 2017

The City of Thousand Oaks is making good on a decade-old promise to help pay for a community park in the Lang Ranch area.

At its April 11 meeting, the City Council voted 5-0 to kick in $2.5 million from its general fund reserves toward the estimated $7-million cost of Sapwi Trails, a first-of-its-kind recreation area the Conejo Recreation and Park District is developing.

THE LANDSCAPE—CRPD’s Matt Kouba shows where a disc golf course will be located at Sapwi Trails Community Park off Avenida de Los Arboles.

The approximately 144-acre park—bordered on the west by Erbes Road, on the north by Avenida de Los Arboles and on the east by Westlake Boulevard—will largely remain in its natural state, but some infrastructure, including parking lots, restrooms, shade structures, picnic tables and a playground will be built on park grounds. Other changes will take place just off site, CRPD Administrator Tom Hare told the council.

“There won’t be a lot of grading or watering out there, so what you see (now) is pretty much what will be there,” Hare said. “In order to allow people into the park, we’re going to have some off-site improvements, like new traffic lights at Arboles and Kensington and Westlake and Rainfield.”

In 2007, the council set aside $5 million help build a previous iteration of the park that was to include lighted ball fields, tennis courts and a roller-hockey rink. That plan was scrapped in 2011 when CRPD discovered it would need to spend millions just to stabilize the land, which sits atop an ancient landslide area.

With the new, lower-impact design came a lower price tag, hence the smaller donation from the city.

“This is easy,” Councilmember Joel Price said of the city’s decision to support the project financially. “This is something everyone in the community will enjoy.”

Rather than hand over the money in one lump sum, the city will instead pay CRPD 50 percent of each invoice it presents to the city up to the $2.5-million maximum, according to the agreement struck last week.

The parks department will be responsible for any expenditures above that amount, said Jamie Boscarino, the city’s deputy finance director. Additionally, the city will take ownership of all off-site improvements, like the traffic signals.

Members of several special interest groups whose input led to the concept of Sapwi Trails came to the council meeting to speak in favor of the park.

“While recreational activities and parks are an outlet from stress of the very hectic world, they’re also an opportunity to connect with nature and reconnect with family and friends,” said Steve Miele of the Thousand Oaks Soaring Society.

The organization will maintain an area dedicated to flying nonmotorized gliders or sailplanes.

Kent Koral of Conejo Valley Cyclists said the local riding club will pitch in with developing the park’s bike trails.

“I’m surprised to see how many people are pulling together . . . this is local sweat that’s going to be putting this together,” Koral said. “Everybody is pulling their weight and I would implore you to vote for this funding. I think it would benefit the community and would be a great addition to what is already a great community.”

Additional capital improvements will include a pedestrian path along the length of the park on Westlake Boulevard, four bridges that cross Lang Creek and some stormwater containment projects.

The park district will begin taking bids on these projects next month, Boscarino said. Construction is expected to start in the summer, and CRPD expects the entire project to be finished by winter 2019.

Posted in Budget and Spending, Conejo Valley, COSCA/CRPD, Hiking, History, Horse Riding, Mountain Biking, Trail Building and Repair, Trail Running, Youth Activities | Leave a comment

Eager crowds are flattening Southern California’s vibrant ‘super bloom’

If it’s not drought that’s keeping the flowers down, it’s the visitors

Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2017

After a record series of winter storms buried the Sierra Nevada in snow and filled rivers and lakes to the brim, a “super bloom” of desert flowers has sprouted in long-parched Southern California and painted the landscape in swaths of bright red, orange, yellow and purple.

Visitors to Lancaster’s Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve stray off the trail and into the flowers. Park officials say heavy foot traffic has created new paths where grass and blooms once were.

The eruption of flora — perhaps the largest in more than a decade — has drawn a steady stream of eager flower-peepers, including naturalists, tourists and hordes of amateur photographers seeking the perfect trophy shot for their social media accounts.

Unfortunately, this extraordinary bloom has also caused many visitors to stray from established foot paths and sent them tromping through fields of California poppies and other flowers, crushing their delicate petals and stems.

Initially, state and local park managers viewed the spike in visitor traffic as a boon. Now, however, some are finding it a nightmare as they struggle to preserve the ephemeral blooms amid growing crowds.

At Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County, park officials were forced to close a section of the mile-long wildflower trail because visitors were marching off the path to snap photos.

“We had literally thousands of people a day coming out to visit in a couple weeks. We’ve never seen it this busy,” said Wendy Picht, a senior environmental specialist with the Metropolitan Water District, which manages Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County. “But at the same time, it was a little bit too much.”

The trail, opened Feb. 24, drew a trickle of visitors at first. But that rapidly grew as word spread of what this year’s historic rainfall had wrought. By March 29, operators ordered the trail closed because of wildflower losses.

The trail was reopened Wednesday — a week later. This time, however, signs were posted in four languages warning hikers to stay on the footpath, and volunteers were stationed along the trail to guide people.

The poppy fields draw the most eyes, Picht said. The flowers last the longest and are brighter than other area species, such as baby blue eyes, arroyo lupine, caterpillar phacelia and Canterbury bells.

“It happened sort of suddenly, people started disregarding the rules and trail guides,” Picht said. “You can’t really blame them, but at the same time, we couldn’t allow that.”

Flattened grass and flower beds at a California poppy preserve in Lancaster.

Her concerns were echoed in the high desert, where throngs of visitors have trekked to the California Poppy Reserve to get the best photographs, an employee said.

A search on Instagram for “#superbloom” turns up more than 50,000 results with recent photos coming from local and state-run parks.

Some photos show visitors holding plucked bouquets of wildflowers, while others show them striking poses within the blooms.

“Spent 3 hours in the car to take pictures for 30 minutes,” one woman wrote on Instagram. The post included an image of her sitting in a bed of poppies.

“’Bloom where you’re planted” wrote a man who was photographed lying on his back with crushed petals next to his head.

Lancaster’s massive field of golden flowers has been popular on social media in recent weeks, and the effects are starting to show.

At least two new “paths” have emerged at the reserve from people’s continuous steps, and workers have had to add signs telling visitors to stay on the trail and to watch out for wildlife, a park employee said.

Meanwhile, at Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, visitors have turned dusty highway shoulders into improvised parking lots. The area has few trails but offers plenty of flower-covered hillsides to amble through.

“We even had folks parking on the freeway,” Lake Elsinore city spokeswoman Nicole Dailey said. “The land abuts the 15 Freeway so they’re taking it upon themselves to pull over to the shoulder.”

Commuters have reported hour-long traffic jams because of the cars exiting into the canyon, she said.

A wave of visitors to Anza-Borrego State Park in San Diego brought similar issues last month, said Kathy Dice, the park’s superintendent.

“This was the first super bloom where we experienced the power of social media and the Internet,” Dice said. “This really drove our numbers beyond anything.”

At the peak of the rush, some guests parked their cars on the side of the road or private property and left trash behind, she said.

“That was the downside of the flower bloom,” she lamented. “The vast majority of people were great, but there are people who don’t behave properly.”

But not every park with a super bloom has shared the fate of those in Southern California.

Hillsides of wildflowers at the Carrizo Plain National Monument at the end of March 2017.

At the Carrizo Plain National Monument in the Central Valley, a record number of visitors swarmed the park over the last month to see the best bloom in recent memory — but they also managed to behave, said Serena Baker, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The visitor center had more than double its average guests over the weekend, and drivers eager to see the flowers filled the parking lot or stopped on side of the road leading into it, Baker said.

Despite the crowd sizes, people have been courteous and respectful, she said.

“People have been really good; we’re really proud of them,” she said.

Posted in California State Parks, Federal BLM, Southern California, US Forest Service | 1 Comment

Family that donated land to TO Open Space has lived in Newbury Park since 1963

Ranch on top of the world

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, March 30, 2017

PUBLIC VERSUS PRIVATE—The Los Robles Trail in Newbury Park, a hot spot for area mountain bikers, crosses a private road belonging to the Rasnows, a local ranching family that has owned land atop a 1,600-foot peak in Newbury Park since the mid-1960s. Plagued by intruders over the years, family members are guarded about their mountaintop property.

As dementia began to overtake Harman Rasnow in the last years of his life, the 80-year-old loved to sit on his ranch on a hill high above Newbury Park and count the hikers below.

“Counting gave him a lot of joy,” said Tina Rasnow, Harman’s daughter. “He loved to see people using the trail.”

It was fitting, then, that one of the Rasnow family’s final acts before Harman died in 2012 was to begin proceedings to transfer control of the land the trail passes through to the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency in order to preserve it into perpetuity.

The 82-acre donation was completed this month.

Map showing (outlined in blue) the 82 acres the Rasnows donated to the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency. The family’s remaining property— about 110 acres—is shown in the bottom half of the map.

Tina Rasnow, a retired attorney who has served as the president of the Ventura County Bar Association and coordinator of the Ventura Self-Help Legal Access Center, told the Acorn the donation was in honor of her father’s legacy.

“He never hesitated to let the public use the land,” she said. “It’s so consistent with the importance he placed on nature.”

Family history

Prior to a handshake deal with COSCA in 1983, only those willing to trespass on the Rasnows’ mountaintop property had access to the trail.

The family has called the top of a 1,600-foot peak at the southern border of Newbury Park home since 1963, when Harman—a civil engineer—agreed to take 7 acres in lieu of payment for survey work he had done in the area. The peak now carries the family name.

A LOVE OF THE LAND—Above, Harman and Eleanor Rasnow before Harman’s death in 2012.

When Harman visited the Ventura County assessor’s office to learn who owned the adjoining property, he discovered the hillside had been subdivided into cabin and campsite lots in the 1920s. Most lots were small—some just a quarter-acre—and steeply graded, making them unsuitable for development.

Property taxes were seldom paid on the lots, which then became available at county auction for the amount of the tax lien. Harman attended such an auction in 1964 and began piecing together what would eventually become a 193-acre property with panoramic views of the Conejo and Hidden valleys.

The family patriarch moved his wife, Eleanor, and three children to Newbury Park in 1970 to escape an increasingly urban San Fernando Valley. A Brooklyn native, Harman was deeply influenced by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”

“Dad moved us out here because he wanted us to live close to the land,” Tina Rasnow said. “He knew the value of a connection to the land.”

Her brother, Brian Rasnow, is a lecturer in physics at Cal State Channel Islands. He said the view from Rasnow Peak has changed dramatically over the past 47 years.

“We used to look at Running Springs Ranch and the Rancho Conejo Airport,” he said. “Now it’s nothing but earth-toned housing tracts.”

Living off the land

Three generations of the Rasnow family have lived on the hilltop. Tina said her father would often commandeer one of the radios used for communication on the ranch to make an announcement.

“Look at the sunset, everybody,” he’d say.

Despite the penthouse views, life on the Rasnows’ land, known as the U4EA Ranch, is a down to earth affair.

Harman Rasnow was an early adopter of organic farming. The ranch produces exotic fruits including pomegranates and guavas. Six thriving bee colonies help keep crops fertile. Sheep and horses roam the property.

Tina Rasnow said her father never predicted his hilltop ranch would be home to a major communication network. But Rasnow Peak leases its mountaintop tech site facilities to satellite, radio, television and cellular telephone companies. Two towers, 60 and 150 feet tall, can be seen on the north side of the peak.

The ranch also houses radio equipment for the Ventura County Fire Department and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

Desire for privacy

Though they have the most visible home in the Conejo Valley, the Rasnows value their privacy. For decades, the family has had encounters with wayward hikers and drug users who have wandered onto their private property and, on at least one occasion, knocked on the front door.

Their visibility has also made them the target of view protection advocates. In 2009, Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks asked for a review of the county’s scenic resource protection zone and pointed to homes like the Rasnows as a reason to tighten the area’s open view shed rules.

“There have been some large houses that have been built on or near the ridgeline that have really dominated the hills,” Parks said. “You look at that hillside, and it is definitely scarred in some areas.”

Putting bad blood aside, Parks told the Acorn that donations like the Rasnows’ give the public access to the beauty of the outdoors and are a remedy to what she called “nature deficit disorder.”

“As our cities grow, having parkland will become more and more treasured and appreciated by future generations,” she said.

It may be beautiful, but life on Rasnow Peak is not for the faint of heart.

The ranch lies beyond the reach of paved roads. Water utilities don’t reach a high enough altitude to service U4EA, so the family survives off two deep water wells, which puts them on the front line of the battle against climate change.

The family has had to kill off two orchards of stone fruit since the drought began five years ago and uses clay irrigation pots called ollas to grow the family’s fruits and vegetables.

The sheep and horses—as well as a rescued burro named Filimón—serve as a natural form of weed abatement. But the undeveloped hillside is an important wildlife corridor, and five of the family’s sheep were killed by a single mountain lion in January.

TRAIL MOVING—The Los Robles Trail crosses a private road belonging to the Rasnows. The trail will be moved to public lands now that the donation of 82 acres by the family is complete.

More than 20 years after a fire destroyed much of their property, forcing them to rebuild, the Rasnow family is focused on the future. With the 82-acre donation complete, COSCA will begin work rerouting the Los Robles Trail away from the family’s private gate.

Once rerouted, the trail will still be visible from their hilltop perch, just in a different location. Tina Rasnow said that’s OK. She said her family has lived with a changing view for years.

Posted in Bicycle Riding, Conejo Valley, COSCA/CRPD, Development, Drought, History, Trail Access, Trail Building and Repair, Wildlife | Leave a comment