Laguna Ridge Trail, also known as T&A, started out life as a ranch road. For many years, this trail was a favorite of the small cadre of Laguna Beach mountain bikers, and despite its steep, fall-line alignment, it stayed a stable, narrow singletrack for over a decade through the 1980s and early 1990s.
Starting with the wildfires in 1993 and culminating with the El Nino rains in 2010, a series of natural events and a dramatic increase in users began causing erosion problems along the trail. For those of you who have been riding since then, you’ve seen the trail change from a primitive, narrow singletrack to a 40-foot-wide rock-choked gully. For years up until the present day, these sections continued to widen as most trail users avoided the jumbled centerline and stayed on the margins, damaging the fragile native vegetation and further eroding the trailbed. If nothing was done, this damage would have continued to degrade both the trail itself and the surrounding habitat, possibly resulting in a complete closure of the entire trail.
OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation, working together to assess trails in the wilderness parks, identified Laguna Ridge as a top priority, and concluded that the first step in saving this trail would be to reroute the top section off of the fall-line to create a longer and more gradual grade. This would render the trail more sustainable and have the added benefit of being rideable uphill as well as down. LCF Staff worked closely with OC Parks in 2014 to design a reroute that would strike a balance between protecting the surrounding sensitive habitat and maximizing the user experience and long-term trail sustainability.
LCF volunteer crews and staff worked tirelessly through the 2015-2016 season to build the 0.3-mile reroute, only to have a wildfire burn through the area in June 2016, resulting in the closure of the trail. We stabilized the new alignment by installing erosion control measures and placing brush to prevent users from shortcutting through the burned areas. Once this work was accomplished, the trail was reopened in October 2016.
Last month (January 2017), OC Parks brought in a contractor to begin the decommissioning of the original trail alignment. The contractor used heavy equipment to break up the compacted trailbed, recontour the channelized slopes, and divert water from the old alignment to prevent further erosion. While using a backhoe to tear up a rocky slope in a wilderness park may seem extreme, it is the only practical way of addressing the scale of the damage that has been caused to this area over the life of this trail.
LCF will soon begin work with the Orange County Conservation Corps to plant and seed this area with native plants in order to restore the impacted area to healthy native habitat as required by OC Parks’ conservation mandate. We will also be working in the burned area to help protect it as it heals from the fire. We will continue to work with our dedicated trail volunteers and OC Parks to improve and maintain this trail and the rest of our trail system so that it can withstand the increasingly heavy use it receives while minimizing impacts to the surrounding habitat.
There is a lot of work to do, and we always welcome your involvement. Join us one of our upcoming trail volunteer days by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.