Outdoor enthusiasts who have set out to traverse front country trails in Montecito recently might have noticed new sights during their journey.
During the past few months, the nonprofit Montecito Trails Foundation added three trailhead kiosks, additional directional signage and electric bike signage. Three glass kiosks with color-coded trail maps to provide general routes and distances are located at the trailheads of Romero Canyon, San Ysidro and Hot Springs.
The Romero Canyon and Hot Springs kiosks were built as Eagle Scout projects for local Troop 33, and the San Ysidro kiosk was donated in memory of Doris Stein, whose son served on the MTF board for several years. A kiosk is planned for the Cold Spring trailhead, but the MTF is awaiting plans for the final bridge construction.
“At a kiosk, you can take a photo of a map with your phone and keep that picture with you because cell service is not always great for online mapping,” said Ashlee Mayfield, board president and volunteer executive director of the MTF. “The map gives a bigger picture than just exactly where people are, but where they could have future adventures.”
Kiosks are directional as well as informational in English and Spanish, and they include a roof structure and details on the trail elevation profiles, wildlife, fire danger, dogs and horses on the trail, description of the trail, poison oak, how the trail will connect to different canyons, and more.
“They are something that we started before the Thomas Fire and debris flows,” Mayfield said.
Many front country trails were damaged by the 2017 Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flows in Montecito.
The Thomas Fire burned more than 280,000 acres in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and caused damage to multiple trails in the area. Additional damage was done by the deadly flash flooding and debris flows in Montecito. Impacted front country trails needed major repair, and the community joined together for the trail maintenance efforts focused on restoration in the hard-hit areas.
Outdoor recreation has been gaining popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The global public health crisis has brought newcomers to the great outdoors.
California is among the top five states where outdoor recreation accounts for the largest percentage of total United States gross domestic product in 2020, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The pandemic has increased the use of local trails exponentially, Mayfield said, and the MTF is happy to see people on the trails connecting.
With the pandemic forcing local fitness facilities to halt indoor operations and local events canceled, the timing of new trailhead kiosks and signage in Montecito is good because significantly more people are choosing public outdoor use areas.
An important part of a successful adventure and return visit is education and preparation, Mayfield said.
“With the uptick in new use during COVID, it is sort of perfect timing,” Mayfield said.
Signage regarding the use of electric bikes also went up on the trails where those are not permitted. More people were seen riding e-bikes in 2018, Mayfield said, and discussions began with other trail groups and agencies about clarifying the rules on e-bikes.
“We received permission in 2018 to sign the trail,” she said, adding that the foundation also worked on trail recovery at that time.
E-bikes can be used on any motorized trail within the Los Padres National Forest, according to Andrew Madsen, public affairs officer for Los Padres National Forest.
Current U.S. Forest Service policy on e-bikes (regardless of class such as Class 1, 2 or 3) is that they are considered motorized vehicles under the travel management rule, Mayfield said. Therefore, e-bikes are not permitted on roads and trails not open to motorized use as identified in current motor vehicle use maps, she said.
E-bike usage is limited to OHV trails in the Los Padres National Forest, according to the MTF. E-bikes are permitted on West Camino Cielo, Buckhorn Road, Camuesa Road, Divide Peak and Upper Oso in Santa Barbara County, the MTF said.
The new kiosk at the Hot Springs Canyon trailhead in Montecito is directional as well as informational in English and Spanish. (Montecito Trails Foundation courtesy photo)
The signage aims to help clarify the rules for e-bike riders and trail users, Mayfield said.
“E-bike signage went up as a result of a lot of inquiries to us from the community about what the rules are,” Mayfield added.
The process to consider allowing e-bikes on particular trails within the national forest includes an environmental study and public comment period, Mayfield said.
Several nonprofit organizations are the stewards of different areas within the U.S. Forest Service, Mayfield said. The MTF is focused on the west fork of the Cold Spring Canyon trail to Franklin Trailhead, and Camino Cielo at the top to the beach below.
“They take care of the little conveniences,” Mayfield said of nonprofit organizations. “None of it is a checklist. It is what you want to do to help the community.”
Coming soon is a bike rack at the San Ysidro trailhead in Montecito, Mayfield said.
If it’s popular, the MTF might extend them along Montecito’s Romero Canyon, Hot Springs Canyon and Cold Spring.
Santa Barbara County officials are seeking input from the public to help plan for parks, trails and recreational facilities throughout the county. An online survey is being conducted in English and Spanish. Click here for more information about the county’s recreation master plan survey.
“This is an opportunity for people to weigh in on where they would like to see future development of trails and recreation,” Mayfield said. “As an organization, we are multiuse and pro bike, hiking and equestrian. … We want to advocate for what is needed.”
Founded in 1964, the MTF is a nonprofit organization working to maintain and restore the front country and community trails in Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria. The organization is run and funded by volunteers.