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Ventura County Perspective

41 Miles and an Ocean of Possibilities

A weeklong trek holds promise of insight into the county's defining asset, its coastline.

July 12, 1998|DOUG ADRIANSON | Doug Adrianson is editor of the Times Ventura County Edition editorial pages. Contact him at (805) 653-7580 or by e-mail at doug.adrianson@latimes.com

Even if you live miles from the ocean, never go to the beach and don't have especially warm feelings toward surfers, sailors or tourists, Ventura County's coastline is one of your greatest assets.

Honest.

Sea breezes are a big reason for the county's ideal climate, which makes this a pleasant place to live and allows the county's farmers to grow a vast array of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other crops all year-round.

The ocean buoys Ventura County in other ways, too. It's what brought us the U.S. Navy, another billion-dollar contributor to the local economy. Fishing fleets harvest their own bumper crops from the Pacific depths. The small but bustling Port of Hueneme ships locally grown fruit all over the world and unloads every sort of imported cargo from bananas to BMWs. Offshore drilling has augmented the oil industry that historically has thrived on the mainland.

And from the Ventura County Fairgrounds to resort hotels to the Channel Islands, coastal attractions lure more visitors--and their wallets--to the area every year.

Then there are the less tangible benefits, such as spectacular sunsets and the contagious tranquillity of having the Pacific Ocean right there--even if absenteeism does tend to rise and fall a bit with the quality of surf swells.

So important is the coastline to the spirit of Ventura County that today I am embarking on a weeklong hike down its length, 41 miles from Carpenteria on the Santa Barbara County line to Leo Carrillo State Beach in Los Angeles County. The things I see, learn and experience along the way will add depth and firsthand understanding to editorials and opinion articles on coastal issues that will appear on these pages in the months ahead.

I'm participating in an annual expedition called Coastwalk, organized by a Sonoma-based nonprofit group by the same name, which has led similar hikes up and down the California coast since 1983. The program has included Ventura and Los Angeles counties since 1994.

The Coastwalk organization strongly advocates public access to the coast, pushing against the tide of locked gates and "No Trespassing" signs. The group's long-range objective is to blaze a trail running the full 1,072-mile California coast from Oregon to Mexico.

My own goal is a bit more modest. As editor of these opinion pages, I am concerned with the full range of issues that shape Ventura County. Many of them affect--or are affected by--the coast, often in subtle ways. Most environmental or watershed problems anywhere in Ventura County sooner or later find their way down to the sea. When sand is trapped behind the Casitas and Matilija dams on tributaries of the Ventura River, coastal erosion results. When floods rupture a sewage pipe in Thousand Oaks' Hill Canyon, beach goers and marine life 15 miles away pay the price.

I'm planning to spend a week hiking in the sun and sleeping on the sand to see the whole stretch with my own eyes. As our group of 30 or so Coastwalkers makes its way south and east, we'll see firsthand which areas are accessible to the public, as required by the California Constitution, and which are off limits for a variety of reasons. We'll explore the wetlands of Ormond Beach and Mugu Lagoon and discuss their importance to the local ecosystem. Guides will teach about bird identification, wild plant uses, Chumash cultural history, mountain building and fire effects.

And don't tell my boss, but we'll probably catch a few waves, roast a few weenies over a bonfire and enjoy a sunset or two along the way too--things most of us too often forget to do, even though the beach is there waiting for us whenever we need it.

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