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The Dirty Work

Ecology Center Will Train Volunteers to Help With Trail Guide


If the Sunbow Ecology Center were to run a classified ad this week, it might look like this: "Wanted: Experienced hikers for hot, dusty work in the Los Padres National Forest, July 1996. Applicants must have keen observational skills, strong attention to detail and good mountain sense. Whiners need not apply."

Between now and the end of June, the center plans to conduct a number of two-hour seminars to train experienced hikers to collect data for a soon-to-be-published trail guide to parts of the Ojai and Santa Barbara back country of the Los Padres National Forest.

Specifically, the guide will cover the Dick Smith Wild, the Sespe Wild, the San Rafael Wild and the Matilija Wilderness.

The center, a nonprofit organization based in Ojai, has been around for seven months. The decision to include publication of a trail guide as a part of its first activities fits with the overall philosophy and goals of the center, according to its three founders, who also are the center's staff.

Lanny Kaufer, Chris Danch and Judith Gustafson share a strong belief in community-based activism and cite two primary objectives for Sunbow: to serve as an education and resource center for Ventura County, and to provide ways for people to have more interaction with the environment.

The latter goal they see as integral to their operation. "We don't think you can expect people to respect and understand the environment and make decisions about its future unless they have some contact with it," said Kaufer, president and education director for the center.

He is also a biologist and ethnobotanist known locally for the educational "herb walks" he has led for the past 20 years. "For many people, Kaufer said, " 'the environment' isn't very real, and they don't see how it impacts their lives."

The trail guide, which will detail 90 hikes of varying length and difficulty, will include a computer enhancement of the topographical map for each hike, the total distance of each hike, its rating (easy to difficult), elevation gain, highest point, and access.


Surveyors will be expected to provide a brief narrative description of the hike, its high points, directions to the trail head, and detailed information about the terrain, any hazards, or scenic points.

Also included in the guide will be information on appropriate clothing and equipment for the terrain, weather and time of year.

"Around here, it's important to be equipped for the season. Hiking conditions vary significantly from winter to summer in Southern California," said Gustafson, a longtime community activist and journalist who serves as Sunbow's treasurer and administrator.

"At certain times of the year, you don't want to hike without gators [lower-leg coverings] because you will never, I mean never, be able to get all the stickers out of your clothes--especially your socks. In the winter there are hikes you shouldn't even attempt because the streams aren't passable. It is really important to be aware of the seasonal changes."

The trail guide is the third program undertaken by Sunbow. Herb walks, conducted by Kaufer, were held nearly every weekend in March, April and May. A nine-day Wilderness First Responder course, which trains outdoor people to provide emergency care in situations where help may be miles or hours away, will end Sunday.

A medicinal plant workshop is on the calendar for early September. Author Michael Moore, whose name is known to most serious herbalists, is the featured instructor, and he will be joined by Ojai's herbalist-author Amanda McQuade Crawford and Sunbow's Kaufer.

Also in the fall, Sunbow hopes to achieve one of its earliest goals: the opening of a resource center in downtown Ojai. "By fall, we hope to have some sort of presence downtown," said Danch, the center's vice president and program director.

"Eventually, our plans include an extensive library, educational programs, a work center and the wherewithal to hold public forums. I envision a day when the 'Ojai Ecology Resource Center' will be a regular stop on the school field-trip tour," said Danch, an attorney and Ojai native.


In the longer term, Sunbow would like to follow the example set by similar centers in Oregon and Idaho and become a force for bringing together people to discuss solutions to common problems.

"We really do believe that the vast majority of people have the same basic goals. Where most of us differ is in the methods for achieving those goals," Gustafson said.

Other long-term plans include involvement in "community mapping"--a program being conducted in other parts of the country that involves collecting and organizing information about all aspects of a community--environmental, industrial, educational, recreational, economic, etc.

The goal is to provide each community with a comprehensive look at itself so its citizens can make informed decisions about the community's direction, its utilization of resources, its future.

"But we're a ways from that," said Danch, laughing. "Right now, we need volunteer hikers and donations of money or equipment for the surveys."

The three principals of the center plan to spend most of July collecting data for the trail guide. Gustafson and her husband, Andrew, have set aside the entire month--Andrew's whole vacation--to hike the trails. "We'll probably take off one day a week to do laundry," said Gustafson, "but the rest of the month we'll be out with our clipboards and measuring wheels."


* ACTIVITIES: For information on trail survey training, the medicinal plant workshop, or other ways to volunteer time or make donations, write or call: Sunbow Ecology Center, P.O. Box 509, Ojai 93024-0509 or call 640-1037, or fax 640-8820.

* THE GUIDE: "The Trail Book" is planned for publication in October and will sell for $24.95. Sunbow is accepting advance orders. Call 640-1137.

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