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OJAI : Dedication of Trail Marred by Vandalism

August 21, 1993|PATRICK McCARTNEY

The heavily promoted dedication of a national forest trail above Ojai was delayed Friday when authorities discovered that suspected gang members had trashed a nearby campground and chopped up the wooden sign marking the begining of the trail to use as firewood.

Despite the vandalism, which included a sprinkling of empty beer cans on the Lion's campground in Rose Valley, officials proceeded with the ceremony to dedicate the Gene Marshall-Piedra Blanca National Recreation Trail, using a substitute sign.

The 18-mile trail, which starts at Sespe Creek and continues north to Reyes Creek by way of Pine Mountain, traverses the heart of the 219,700-acre Sespe Wilderness.

The Sespe, Chumash and Matilija wilderness areas--covering 287,450 acres of Ventura County backcountry--were created last year with the passage of the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act.

Protected from the sun by the shade of a giant cottonwood tree, forest officials lauded the efforts of the late Gene Marshall, a former forester-turned-stockbroker who campaigned for 30 years to preserve the Sespe Creek area.

"Gene knew the special qualities of the Sespe and understood how it worked as an ecosystem," said Ranger Erwin N. Ward.

"This dedication is not just about a trail, but about the wilderness and the beauty of the Sespe area."

As he spoke, wisps of smoke rose from a bundle of sagebrush, a ceremonial blessing borrowed from the Chumash Indians who once traveled the trail route.

Before the ceremony concluded, officials arrived with a duplicate trail-head sign that was originally intended for the trail's opposite end.

Surveying the vandals' wreckage, including ripped-up benches, trash and crude carvings of suspected gang initials, Ward shook his head sadly.

"It really irritates me to see this," he said.

"The damage shows a total disregard for the forest and for the people who come to enjoy it."

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