McMenemy Trail Project Moves Forward

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   November 29, 2022
The green line shows the current location of the McMenemy Trail; the orange line shows a proposed relocation of a .6-mile section of the trail

Last week, Santa Barbara County’s Riding and Hiking Trails Advisory Committee (aka CRAHTAC) approved a plan to realign .6 miles of Montecito’s McMenemy Trail. According to Montecito Trails Foundation (MTF) Board President Ashlee Mayfield, the section of trail in question has significant issues and has been on the docket for improvement since at least 2008, she said. 

The current location of the trail is less than ideal, Mayfield says, with multiple switchbacks that some users have cut through, creating both a hazard and potential erosion. Further impacting the user experience, there is extensive erosion along a fence line that has halted many equestrians and bikers from utilizing the trail. For many years, local trail groups have tried to improve the trail and minimize the cut-throughs, and MTF has long wanted to take on the project of relocation. The project was put on the back burner following the Thomas Fire and 1/9 Debris Flow, as other trails including Cold Spring and San Ysidro were majorly damaged and needed repair. “Now, we have the bandwidth to tackle this, and we have a huge opportunity thanks to the private property owners where the trail is located,” Mayfield said. 

The section in question is located on the San Ysidro Ranch property as well as the next-door neighbor’s. Both property owners have given MTF the latitude to relocate the trail anywhere on their properties, allowing the Foundation to build what they say is a better multiuse trail that minimizes suburban impacts from fencing and noise exposure, and maximizes chaparral, views, and offers a gentle grade for users. “We are really excited about this preliminary project, and we feel the trail will be greatly improved,” Mayfield said. 

Opponents of the project say the realignment will be far less scenic, and steeper than the current trail. Others say the new location will be more prone to slides or washouts, due to hillsides that are not fully regrown from the Thomas Fire. There has also been questions related to the public process and community outreach, or lack thereof, related to this project. Mayfield says that the nature of our front country is less than ideal for building trails, and that the new route will be no more “at risk” than any of the other trails in the front country. She says maintenance due to weather is far preferable and easier than battling intentional trail damage by users, which is what is happening in the current location. Because the section of trail in question is not on Forest Service land and instead on private property, a trail can be relocated without the usual public process, as long as easements are recorded. 

“MTF has nothing to gain from this project, nor do the property owners. We unanimously believe that the relocation of the trail will provide a far improved user experience and we are dedicated to the maintenance of the future trail,” Mayfield said, adding that the project has a long way to go before coming to fruition. Next steps include researching easement materials, hiring a consultant to perform an environmental review of the proposed trail location, further outreach to the public via hikes and volunteer days, and more. “We have a ways to go before this becomes reality.” 

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