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FEATURED NATIONAL RECREATION TRAIL The Backbone Trail, California


By Melanie Beck National Park Service


W


ith just two days to go before the Backbone Trail grand opening event, National Park Service staff at Santa Monica Mountains


National Recreation Area were anxious. Finishing up the last acquisitions for the trail and getting the final section built in time for the June 4th celebration had kept park staff fighting against time all year. What a delight it would be to be able to announce the


National Recreation Trail designation! Then, Superintendent  from Helen Scully, National Recreation Trails Coordinator at  NRT! The Backbone Trail was signed off today.” In that moment, a long-held vision to have the Backbone


Trail as a National Recreation Trail became reality. Staff exhaled a sigh of relief and then whooped for joy. The 50-year effort could be summed up as “The simple act of walking on a trail is anything but simple to create.”


With some 180 parcels to acquire on the direct align- ment, many more for viewshed, and miles of trail to build, nothing short of a harmonic convergence among citizens, park agencies, and legislators created what we have today. The 67-mile trail spans the Santa Monica Mountains, an


east-west trending transverse mountain range that bifurcates Los Angeles and tumbles down to the Pacific Ocean. You only have to go a short distance from the coast, though, before the Mediterranean-type climate can get hot. But, your reward for hiking in the heat is to have the chance to see and feel the fog spilling over the coastal ridgelines and soothing the thirsty chaparral.  - lands, views of the Channel Islands sometimes, and to the east, cityscapes of nearby Los Angeles. The Backbone Trail truly embodies the spirit of the National Recreation Trails program, being within an hour’s drive of some 17 million Americans, yet offering a near-wilderness experience that visitors beg park agencies to protect.


California poppies on the trail through Point Mugu State Park 26 FALL 2016 AmericanTrails.org


The trail is best enjoyed in segments over several days or weekends until backcountry camps or other overnight accommodations are in place for a continuous outing. Let’s go for a hike. We’ll hike east to west. We’re at Will Rogers State Historic Park and head up Rogers Road. The famous cowboy humorist and actor had the road built across his ranch in 1927. As we climb, here’s some history. A ridge line route through the Santa Monica Mountains wasn’t first envisioned by trail enthusiasts. In spite of early renderings by the Olmstead brothers for making a park out of the Santa Monica Mountains, state highway planners and development interests in 1964 thought a ridge-top freeway across Malibu would not only open the area to development, but might also provide possible recreation areas. What this and other threatening projects did, though, was galvanize a cadre of park and trail enthusiasts. Out of this protection movement we got three new state parks, the name change to “Backbone Trail,” and in 1978, a national rec-


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