Persevering to Preserve the Live Oak Equestrian Trail

The Live Oak Equestrian ONLY Trail in the Santa Ynez Valley was recently opened to hikers on April 15, 2021. The stipulation is for hikers only, and NO dogs. Mountain bike activity is on hold for the next 18 months. This action changed a 30-year history of the trail being set aside for Equestrian use only. Equestrians want to preserve the Equestrian Only status of the Live Oak Equestrian Trail.

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History of the Live Oak Equestrian Trail

The Santa Ynez Valley Riders (SYVR) has a 50-year long history of working with the County on horse trail advocacy for equestrians. It was the Board of the SYVR that first worked with former Parks Department Director Mike Pahos over 30 years ago to develop Live Oak Equestrian Trail. This was in response to the loss of equestrian trail easements all throughout the Santa Ynez Valley floor. Currently, SYVR board members are developing relationships with the Parks Department staff at Live Oak Trail. This began in November 2020 when they first found out about the proposed changes. Talks between the two parties has been going nonstop ever since.

Surprised by the Change in Status

The crazy thing about this situation is that equestrians were not notified of the proposed change. They were not invited to provide input regarding a trail set aside for equestrian use only. Once equestrians got wind of the planned change they sprang into action. Their efforts resulted in turning away mountain bikers for the time being. However, now the trail is open to hikers for a period of time as a pilot program.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

SYVR members contacted almost every decision maker, including Congressman Salud Carbjal to help stop the opening of the trail. It did some good. The US Bureau of Reclamation assures there will be a public process in 18 months, before the trail is opened to any more users (i.e. mountain bikes). Equestrians are preparing for future challenges in the meantime.

Several SYVR members attended the County Park Commissioners meeting April 2020. “These folks get it,” says Kathy Rosenthal who is the point person for this whole effort. “They understand our objections and understand why we are asking for the Parks Division’s accountability and obligation to ensure safety and security at the trail. It was the first time we’ve had a positive reception from people who can influence the decision. We have followed up and asked for a special meeting to discuss the Live Oak Trail project. This is especially important in light of the fact that there is no data gathering to assess the number of trail users. In addition, there is concern regarding the Park Division’s ability to fulfill their duties to enforce rules and control access to this beautiful area.”

Kathy went on to explain the lack of logic in the decision-making process, “Both data gathering and enforcement were supposed to be implemented as part of the ‘Pilot Project’. We have been speaking before our Board of Supervisors to protest the process that was used to open Live Oak Trail. The process proceeded without public notification or input. Those involved to continue to push for the Parks Division’s accountability for data collection.

The entire opening of Live Oak is based on collecting the number and type of trail users. However, there is no way to do that now, even with the gate being open to all. This situation also calls for active engagement and education of trail users as well as providing dedicated presence (Ranger) for safety, security and rule enforcement as duties of the Park Division. If they don’t have the funding to support these duties, Live Oak should not be opened to more traffic.”

Temporary Outcome – Mountain Bikers on Hold for 18 Months

Through the efforts of SYVR and others mountain bikes have been taken off the table for 18 months. Although it is understood that the Rangers and Park staff have been told not to give out that information. However, mountain bikes on Live Oak Trail remain a threat. Strong promotion to provide mountain bikes access is expected as the process moves forward, especially at the end of the 18-month period. Therefore, equestrians are encouraged to use the trail as much as possible.

Riding the Live Oak Equestrian Trail

Getting There: The trail head is below the Live Oak Camp in Santa Ynez. A parking permit is required and can be paid at the trail head.

The 40-acre Live Oak camp is 15 miles northeast of Santa Barbara and 15 miles southwest of Solvang approximately five miles from Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. The camp shares its entrance off Highway 154 with Rancho San Marcos Golf Course. Take a left once you’ve passed through that entryway. Google Map of Live Oak Camp.

To Ride: You DO NOT have to check in at the Main gate at the Cachuma Recreation Kiosk. Just go straight to Live Oak Trail and park. The gate at Live Oak is open and no gate code needed. You can pay the $10.00 day use fee at the Trailhead or use your Cachuma Lake annual pass.

Incident Reporting: Emergency phone numbers are posted on the entry signs and the kiosks with contact information for Cachuma Rangers.

If it is something serious, then please call 911 and Cachuma’s Main Gate number – (805) 686-5055 – as posted on the signs and kiosk.

If something is an infraction of the trail rules (i.e a dog on the trail , please call Cachuma’s Main Gate number (805) 686-5055. Please request that a Ranger respond, take an Incident Report and ask that the incident be reported and logged for future reference.

You’re invited! 

We have contacted riding groups and individuals from Monterey to Ventura Counties. All are invited to ride at Live Oak Trail on Saturday, June 5th, 2021. Please pass this notice along to friends and family.  Save the date and plan on joining in the fun! It will be an opportunity to ride, see old friends, talk about what’s happening with the trail, and have a picnic (BYOB-Bring your own bag/basket) when we return from riding.

It’s an all day event. 9-1 trail ride on your own; 1:00 pm lunch, info, Q&A about Live Oak. Remainder of the afternoon, relax socialize, take the Santa Barbara County Recreational Needs Survey (there will be an information booth at the parking area). Also plan to stop by the SAVE Santa Barbara County Equestrian Trails table.

Equestrian Feedback Needed

Feedback on the Live Oak Trail: You may leave feedback at the email at any time. Parks Supervisor Jon Menzies monitors the email, but just in case, ask for a reply to your email as confirmation it was received. Topics might include: injuries, safety and security, comments on why the project is not going forward as proposed (i.e. no data gathering), maintenance issues, suggestions, etc. – anything in regards to trails.

Donations to Save Live Oak Trail

Good news! We’ve received generous donations to fuel efforts to save the Live Oak Trail. Please consider donating. Take note, donations are being collected by our fiduciary partner, the Santa Barbara Trails Council at

Future Vision Includes a Horse Camp at Live Oak

A horse camp at Live Oak (individual campsites with enough to expand to a group site) will be considered once the 18 month “Pilot Program” is complete.

The SYVR holds regular meetings with the Parks Division staff, on-site at Live Oak Trail. The purpose is to develop a cooperative atmosphere, and provide equestrian education for the Parks officials. In recent days SYVR Board members and Parks officials have toured Live Oak Trail. Together they identified facilities for restoration and new areas for recreational amenities, such as picnic tables, hitching posts, and mounting blocks near gates.

Both SYVR and Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Association (SYVEA) wish to promote and expand support for overnight equestrian camping space and facilities at Live Oak. It would be the County’s only “Horse Camp/Park” and we are all eager to see that come into fruition.

The needs of equestrians and the future of Live Oak and other trails will only be met by our efforts to pull together – and not succumb to the attempts by many who wish to divide us and conquer. Our strength is in our common values of camaraderie, education, and cooperation – the same values we use to partner with our equine companions. Better, together.

Thank you all for your continued support!!!

Most of the information in this story was written by Kathy Rosenthal, President of Santa Ynez Valley Riders. Tirelessly, Kathy has been working to be sure the voice of the equestrian is heard.

Photo Credit: Kathy Rosenthal

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