Montecito Trails Foundation

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   June 28, 2018
Runners on the Romero trail prior to the debris flow. Montecito Trails Foundation is doing all they can to restore our local trails for runners, hikers, bikers, and equestrians.
Trail signs recovered by the Bucket Brigade’s Jeff Clark from the debris flow in the Ennisbrook Trail area; they will be restored and reused

For more than 50 years, Montecito Trails Foundation (MTF) has overseen the maintenance of Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria trails, making them a safe, reliable place for community members to explore both the foothills and “low land” trails. Following the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudflow, the group of volunteers realized the scope of their work had drastically changed, and now the organization is seeking financial assistance from the community. 

“We’re a bunch of locals who volunteer to oversee the trails,” said longtime board member Ben Wiener. “Things obviously changed dramatically, overnight,” he said, adding that the group was previously focused on maintaining the 90 miles of trails – all located below East Camino Cielo – during the drought, and helping to acquire more trails as part of the network. “We went into rebuild mode: repairing and reconstructing damaged areas, subject to decisions by the County and the Forest Service,” he said. 

New board member Ashlee Mayfield tells us the trail system in Montecito is complicated: traversing City, County, and Los Padres Forest boundaries often just within the first mile of a trail. “We are whole-heartily indebted to the way all the agencies are dedicated to working together to help Montecito rebuild, from the beaches all the way up to our mountains,” she said. MTF has been included in talks with County Parks & Recreation director Jill Zachary, Pancho Smith, from the U.S. Forest Service, and Brian Yanez, deputy director of Santa Barbara County Parks. “Having reps from all three agencies, as well as multiple trail groups, in one room together has been invaluable,” Mayfield said. 

The mudflow exposed a stone bench at the creek crossing on San Ysidro Catway

MTF has recently brought on three new board members: Mayfield, Paddy McMahon, and Tony Morris, who are helping the nonprofit to regroup and rebuild the trail system. They join 10 other board members, led by president Kevin Snow, who has served the MTF for 35 years. The Trail Committee includes a runner (Mayfield), a mountain biker (Hans Van Koppen), and an equestrian (Jane Murray) , who make it their mission to traverse the trails daily to report issues and prioritize repairs. “Together we bring a multi-use perspective to everything we do,” Mayfield said. 

“The trails are seen as an integral part of our recovery,” she added, estimating that there are thousands of people on the trails at any given time. In addition to the trails being significantly damaged, signage and trailhead kiosks were also affected. The group has already repaired many of the “low land” trails, with the help of the Bucket Brigade, Santa Barbara Land Trust, and Ennisbrook Association. Work has also begun on the Romero Jeepway, which will be followed by the Romero Single Track, Girard, McMenemy, Buena Vista, and Hot Springs.

The mudflow exposed a stone bench at the creek crossing on San Ysidro Catway

Although MTF had a “rainy day fund” for emergency repairs, they have a need for a larger budget to fund the hundreds of thousands – potentially millions – of dollars necessary to repair the trails. “We are not subsidized by the government; we depend on local donations and the good will of the community,” Wiener said. Rerouting in some of the upper trails will be necessary, requiring engineering, surveys, and easements. “It’s a complicated process that will take a lot of time and money,” Wiener said. While the City and County continue to attempt to secure grants from FEMA to help with the rebuilding, MTF is dedicated to keeping the lower trails open and reopening the upper trails one section at a time. 

Early rumors of “angel donors” stepping up to help fund the work of the MTF during this time have not come to fruition. The group is seeking community members who would like to donate funds, host events, and help fundraise. “We are trail lovers, not experts at raising money,” Wiener said. The group’s largest fundraiser of the year, the annual barbecue in September, will need to be relocated as the Montecito Valley Ranch was affected by the mudflow. 

For those looking to help volunteer, this Saturday, June 30, the MTF is hosting a Trails Recovery Day; volunteers will help restore the McMenemy, Old Pueblo, Bud Girard, and Saddle Rock trails, and others. All skill levels are welcome; lunch will be provided at Manning Park. Jobs are not limited to actual work on the trails, as help is needed with set-up, breakdown, and lunch. To RSVP and for more information, call Steve Biddle at 564-5436. 

To join the MTF, and to stay up-to-date on the trail closures, visit


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