Condor Trail could span entire length of Los Padres National Forest

By Alex Wilson 11/11/2010

Backpackers can spend weeks traveling long-distance thru-hiking trails like the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, and someday the Los Padres National Forest could boast an approximately 400-mile stretch called the Condor Trail.

Bryan Conant became an avid backcountry enthusiast while he was a student at UC Santa Barbara and explored the local mountains with his dog. Since then, he’s produced some beautiful full-color maps of forest wilderness areas and now works for in Goleta, creating custom maps.

Presently, he’s leading an ambitious effort to create the Condor Trail. Conant is trying to sell U.S. Forest Service officials on the benefits of a new route that could lure hikers from all over the world looking for a wilderness journey through rugged and varied terrain. Current plans set the southern end of the Condor Trail at Lake Piru, and the northern terminus would be at the Bottchers Gap Campground in Big Sur.

Conant says it would be a real adventure to hike the whole way. “I’ve always envisioned going north to south, and thought it would be spectacular going from the redwood trees and then dropping down and seeing the ocean through Big Sur,” says Conant. “Then hiking along the Sisquoc River for 20 miles would be spectacular, and then back up into the pine trees, and hit a couple hot springs. I think it would be phenomenal.”

Most of the route would follow existing trails, but other areas still need to be cleared of thick brush. Volunteers working on the project are founding a nonprofit to raise awareness of the plan and attract more people interested in helping out with brush removal. They’re publicizing their efforts with a website at featuring beautiful backcountry photos, and also have a growing number of Facebook friends.

Los Padres National Forest Public Affairs Officer Andrew Madsen says that even though major challenges must be overcome, he’s excited about the proposal. “It’s a good idea, it’s just how do we find the resources to accomplish this work,” says Madsen. “We’ve got thousands of miles of trail out there, and we’re only able to maintain certain amounts every year based on our funding.”

But Madsen says that despite the challenges, it’s a long-term goal worth pursuing. “It would give folks a great look at some of the backcountry wilderness,” says Madsen. “A lot of those areas haven’t really changed for hundreds and hundreds of years, and it’s a very cool experience being out there hiking in that natural setting. So we obviously see the benefit in having something like that.”

Volunteers have already spent long days clearing portions of the proposed route, and Madsen says any efforts that can bring more volunteers to the forest are welcome. “We want to make sure that once the trail is set up that we have folks who are interested in helping maintain that, because we’ll take on some additional trail miles that we haven’t budgeted for, and if we’re going to make those open to the public, we have to make them safe,” says Madsen.

Conant says they’re dedicated to helping the Forest Service and creating better access to remote areas that very few people ever experience. “We’re here to help them. The Condor Trail can do nothing but good things for the Forest Service,” says Conant. “We’re going to bring people to the forest, which will allow them to bring in more money to the forest. If done correctly, this could be the centerpiece of the Los Padres.”

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