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New unique Gaviota area coastal trail opens after setbacks from fire and flooding

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - For the first time, the public will now have access to geographically and biologically unique Baron Ranch, 13 miles west of Goleta, where a new trail has opened up. 

The Arroyo Quemado Trail traverses an area from right next to Highway 101 up to about the 2500-foot level. It is located on property to the east of the Tajiguas landfill.

The President of the Santa Barbara County Trails Council remembers the first time he saw it. Mark Wilkenson said, "Wow! This has promise, there's a thousand acres here. Where else in the county will there be a new park?"

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Joan Hartmann said, "It's really, really incredible to have this place in our Gaviota coast."

She said it has views from the mountain peaks that are unlike anywhere else where she has hiked.

The trail is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrian uses. No dogs are allowed.

Images from trail cameras show how healthy the environment is and how it is a home for large wildlife.

Hartmann said that includes, "a black bear, a mountain lion, and a bobcat. We have a camera here that shows a resident mountain lion, he's really amazing."

This also includes over 50 species of birds, some that are currently nesting, and the western pond turtle along with the rare red-legged frog.

Joddi Leipner is a Santa Barbara County Public Works Department Senior Planner. She said, "the biologist I worked with said this was one of the most valuable red-legged frog habitats that he had ever seen."

The trail opening was a collaboration of many local, state, and federal agencies along with public volunteers. 

Wilkenson said, "it's been a community project all along, lots of support."

It will change throughout the year. Wilkenson said, "you get up there in the wildflower season and you're just like in awe. It's like a huge botanic garden."

Joan Hartmann agreed. "In the spring it all comes up and you see it and actually every week you see a whole different set of flowers it's really extraordinary."

The trail and all the improvements including bridges were ready to go until the 2021 Alisal fire hit followed by heavy rain, flooding and debris. That had to be cleared, and many areas had to be restored again with more funding and months of work.

The site has a history dating back to some of the earliest indigenous habitants on the coast and the first Spanish explorers in the area.

The land is under the County Public Works Department, Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division. The public trail is managed by the County Parks Department in cooperation with the Santa Barbara Trails Council.

The trailhead is just to the west of the Highway 101 exit in the area about two miles from Refugio Rd. and it is located at the Calle Real frontage road on the north side of Highway 101.

The trail has a six-mile loop and connects to the West Camino Cielo Trail in the Los Padres National Forest.

No other access off the trail is allowed.

The county says the Baron Ranch provides important habitat for federal and state-listed sensitive wildlife species including:

  • The California Red-Legged Frog (Rana draytonii)
  • The Least Bell's Vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus)
  • The Southwestern Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata pallida)
  • The Two-Striped Garter Snake (Thamnophis hammondii)

Sensitive plants also found at the ranch include:

  • Santa Barbara Honeysuckle (Lonicera subspicata var. subspicata)
  • Plummer's Baccharis (Baccharis plummerae ssp. Plummerae)
  • Hoffmann's Nightshade (Solanum xanti var. Hoffmannii)

Threatened and sensitive species are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, California Endangered Species Act, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations. Violations are subject to civil and criminal penalties and closure of the trail.

Other wildlife present at the ranch include:

  • Black bear
  • Bobcat
  • Coyote
  • Deer
  • Frogs
  • Migratory birds
  • Mountain lion
  • Raccoon
  • Rattlesnake
  • Turtles
  • Several species of raptors

Please respect their habitat; you are a visitor to their home.

Trail Use

  • Baron Ranch trails fall under the enforceable provisions of Santa Barbara County Code - Chapter 26. Violations are subject to fines.
  • The trail is open from 8 am to sunset.
  • Cell service may be limited or not available.
  • The trail is in a high fire hazard area. No smoking or fires.
  • Due to the remote nature of the trail, visitors should not hike/bike/ride alone.
  • Poison oak, ticks, stinging nettles and other natural hazards are present throughout the Ranch.
  • Vehicles may be present on the trail/roads at any time in association with restoration, conservation and agricultural activities.

For more information go to: Baron Ranch

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
Arroyo Quemada Trail
Baron Ranch
santa barbara county

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John Palminteri

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