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Month of Events Will Help Close Trail Gap

Outings on the nearly complete 70-mile stretch of parkland are designed to help raise the $4.6 million needed to finish it.


It's been 20 years in the making, but the Backbone Trail along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains is almost complete.

Only a six-mile gap remains in the granddaddy of all trails, which meanders 70 miles over spectacular peaks from Pacific Palisades near Santa Monica to Point Mugu.

It's because of this missing link that the Mountains Conservancy Foundation designates November as Backbone Trail Month, which will be crammed with organized outings to raise awareness of the project--and the need to raise $4.6 million to finish it.

So if you're anxious to hit the trail now that the cooler weather is here, you'll have a choice: hiking with the Sierra Club, biking with Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn., bird-watching with the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society or trekking with a state parks interpretive guide in areas burned by the Calabasas-Malibu wildfire last month.

The fire torched parts of Malibu Creek State Park and neighboring Tapia Park, both of which carry portions of the Backbone Trail. Malibu Creek State Park is open, but as of earlier this week Tapia Park was still closed.

But the fire hasn't fizzled Backbone Trail Month festivities. In fact, trail promoters say that hiking through the burned parkland is an amazing experience.

"It's a unique chance for people to see one aspect of the whole natural cycle of the mountains that they might not see otherwise," said Garrie Mar, director of development for the foundation. "It's fascinating how fast it grows back. Everyone predicts we'll have fabulous wildflowers" next spring.

When it's finished, the Backbone Trail will be one of the longest urban wilderness trails in the country. Hikers will be able to shoulder their backpacks and walk from Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades westward through connecting parks that link Topanga State Park, Malibu Creek State Park and Point Mugu State Park.

They can almost do that now. The missing link is a six-mile stretch of private property near the border of Ventura and Los Angeles counties. It's about 420 acres between Encinal Road and the Circle X Ranch in Point Mugu State Park.

"We hope we'll have the money in four years, but we'll acquire the land as we go along," Mar said. "They're all willing sellers." For now, the west segment of the trail is 18 miles, and the east portion 46 miles.

The trail crosses a patchwork of state and national parkland, acquired piece by piece over the years with public money. But last year, after public funds for land acquisition had dried up, the Mountains Conservancy Foundation, a nonprofit land-conservation group, mounted a campaign to raise private sector money for the rest of the project.

It's a grass-roots effort: People can "purchase" a foot, yard or signpost for the trail.

"The trail was envisioned over 20 years ago," Mar said. "It's always been part of the vision for the whole area."

The activities scheduled this month are scattered all over the trail, which runs the gamut in terms of scenery, according to Mar.

"Every stretch of the trail is so different," she said. "Sometimes you're up high on a ridge with fabulous views of the valley or ocean. Sometimes you're at the bottom of a canyon with waterfalls."

Segments of the trail have their own scenic wonders: Huge sandstone rock formations dot the Castro Crest area, spring wildflowers flourish in Point Mugu State Park, steep Chicken Ridge in Will Rogers State Park delivers astonishing views and Zuma and Trancas canyons have waterfalls.



* WHAT: November is designated Backbone Trail Month by the Mountains Conservancy Foundation. Activities have been scheduled on the trail that follows the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains.

* HIKES: Sierra Club members are leading trail hikes Sunday and Nov. 17 and 24. The distances run from 6 to 17 miles. For details, call the foundation, (310) 589-2400.

* Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Assn. has rides scheduled Sunday and Nov. 17 and 24. (818) 773-3555. The Trail Runners Club has runs, 8 to 14 miles long, set for Sunday and Nov. 17, 24 and 28. (310) 459-3757.

* BIRD WATCHING: The San Fernando Valley Audubon Society will lead a bird-watching expedition Nov. 17 at Malibu Creek State Park. (818) 783-4293.

Also that day, state parks interpretive guide Jim Holt will lead an 11-mile hike in Malibu Creek State Park. Reservations are required. (310) 457-8142.

On Nov. 24, Temescal Canyon Assn. will lead a hike up to Saddle Peak. (310) 459-5931.

* CALL AHEAD: Events may be canceled due to fire or weather conditions. To confirm, call the individual organizations sponsoring the events or the Mountains Conservancy Foundation, (310) 589-2400.

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