Montecito Trails Foundation Goes Ass First into Second Phase of San Ysidro Trail’s Restoration

By Nick Schou   |   October 22, 2020
Los Padres Outfitters Mule Train in Action (photo courtesy Ashlee Mayfield)

After an almost monthlong closure aimed at preventing new fires in what is already one of the busiest fire seasons in California history, the National Forest Service reopened the Los Padres National Forest on October 9. At just after 9 am that morning, 13 mules and a horse led by a trio of wranglers hired by the Montecito Trails Foundation (MTF) headed up the San Ysidro Trail to begin work on the second and most complicated phase of restoring the trail.

Led by Graham Goodfield of Los Padres Outfitters, the mule train consisted of a baker’s dozen of asses: Darryl, Beyonce, Rainy, Sophie, Louisa, Jethro, Willie, Prince, More Heart, Jalama, Tucker, Eli, and Paychecks. Our heroic, four-hoofed friends packed supplies and provisions including 90 wooden posts up the mountain, all of which will be used to shore up the last remaining work on Montecito’s most challenging trail, which was extensively damaged during the 2017 Thomas Fire and 2018 debris flow.

In a fitting tribute to the historic, pack animal-oriented origins of Montecito’s trail network, MTF hopes to wrap up the remaining work on the San Ysidro trail this winter. The first phase of the project wrapped up earlier this year with the restoration of the so-called “Psycho Slide,” where post-fire erosion had obliterated a 10-yard stretch of the trail near the apex of the climb.

Whereas work crews on Phase One of the project were able to hike downhill to the Psycho Slide from East Camino Cielo, Phase Two involves shoring up walking paths starting at the San Ysidro Waterfall and continuing up roughly 1.5 miles and 1750 feet of vertical escalation up to the same area. Hence the mules.

“With the Los Padres National Forest reopening, we launched ass first into Phase Two of the restoration,” said MTF President Ashlee Mayfield, who helped organize the mule train. “Honoring the long history of the San Ysidro Trail and its rugged nature, we have been carefully restoring it piece by piece.”

Looking down San Ysidro trail (photo courtesy Ashlee Mayfield)

Ultimately, the decision to use mules rather than using helicopters on one extreme end of the spectrum, or human labor on the other, came from Bryan Conant, the lead trail builder and project leader in the original construction of the trail. Conant arranged for Goodfield of Los Padres Outfitters to lend his wrangling expertise to the planned depot operation. Packing all the posts and materials from the trailhead past the waterfall, and up an additional 1.5 miles and 1750 feet, ended up taking two days.

According to Mayfield, the mules were able to pack all the posts and other trail supplies to their various locations, where they will remain until construction work begins. “The installation process will take place over the winter, so we are really staging it right now,” she said. “We were really lucky to have Graham help us out, since he usually does all these amazing adventures and beach walks.”

In lieu of MTF’s annual barbecue, the group is hosting a pop-up on the grass in front of Via Vai in Montecito’s Upper Village this Friday from 10:30 am to 2 pm. To raise funds for trail restoration, the group will be selling MTF merchandise, including trail maps and other gear.

“We have a lot of new trail users due to COVID, and the population of our little town is exploding,” Mayfield said. “Right now the trails are one of the best places to meet people, with masks and social distancing. This year, we really wanted to do something where we could connect with the community and smile with our eyes at each other.”


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