A New Look for Laguna Ridge Trail

Amid the quail calls, bobcat tracks in fresh mud, and beautiful views stretching from the ocean to the Santa Ana Mountains, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s Restoration Program Director Alan Kaufmann and the California Conservation Corps – the Cs, as they are called – have been hard at work designing and realigning a portion of Laguna Ridge Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

The trail will be re-opening this weekend.

Funded by OC Parks and the Gimbel Family Foundation, this project – part art, part geometry, part biology, and a whole lot of heavy lifting – will make the trail more sustainable and safer for both hikers and riders, with minimum impact on the native vegetation and wildlife.

OC Parks personnel and long-term Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers tested the trail on bikes and boots as the work progressed. Adjustments were made in the trail grading, switchbacks, mulching and sandbag/wattle use. “We design so that the trail is invisible to water. We want to keep water off the trail and park users on the trail,” Alan said.

For four weeks, Alan and fifteen dedicated Corpsmembers regularly worked ten-hour days. The California Conservation Corps, whose motto is “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions and more,” is – all jesting aside – an important partner for both OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation.  The Corpsmembers are 18 -25 year-old men and women who work on environmental projects throughout the state of California.

“We’re very fortunate to work with them,” said Alan. “This particular crew has been truly committed.”

Working on the trail gives folks time to chat. Two of the crew members have very different reasons for why they joined. For Matt, the Cs is a stepping stone. Ultimately, he wants to be a National Park Ranger stationed in the backcountry, but first, he’ll be joining the Air Force and getting his college degree. Working on a project like Laguna Ridge Trail, he says, gives him a great foundation of experience and knowledge.

For Chris, who had been homeless since he was 13, the Cs gave him steady work, growing skills, a path to get his GED, and a mentor, which the Cs call a Navigator. He is proud to say he’s been off the streets for a year and a half.

The experience of hiking or riding the realignment is amazing – especially if we remember that only a few weeks ago the new trail was just a big, tangled mustard field and now it is completely transformed. First, the dead, six-foot mustard had to be cut down; roots had to be grubbed out. Then all the organic material had to be removed to make way to cut the tread for the trail. In-slope turns had to be built. Grades and water flow were factored in. The new trail had to be naturalized and the old trail obliterated.

Our constituents have been very supportive. “Thanks for the love! That trail really needed it!”

In the end, along with the mustard removal, approximately a third of a mile of new trail was aligned with more than a thousand feet of wattle, 200 sandbags, yards of dirt and mulch and countless rocks and boulders.

It was a labor of love for a trail and the wilderness we all love. Thanks to OC Parks and the Cs!

Interested in joining us? Sign up for one of our restoration, nursery or trail events: https://lagunacanyon.org/events/#volunteer