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Roller Coaster

'Wheel to the Sea' will take disabled hikers through the mountains to the ocean.


Tree-lined trails, panoramic canyon views and the gentle babble of Sycamore Creek will all be part of "Wheel to the Sea," a hike planned in the Santa Monica Mountains this Saturday for people who use wheelchairs.

Now in its 14th year, the semiannual event attracts people of all ages who are interested in an outdoor experience that spans the rugged hills of Point Mugu State Park to the Sycamore Cove Picnic Area on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to a sense of accomplishment and pride, the nearly 5-mile trek will end with a barbecue lunch prepared beach-side by the Kiwanis Club of Thousand Oaks.

California State Parks officials will provide a beach buggy equipped with big balloon tires that can handle sand and transport participants to the water for a dip.

"It really affords wheelchair-bound individuals the opportunity to experience, firsthand, nature and all that it has to offer," said David Fuentes, a spokesman for the Conejo Recreation and Parks District, which is co-sponsoring the event with the Parks Department and the Wilderness Institute.

Brad Childs, founder of the Wilderness Institute in Agoura Hills and the person who started the hike, said the event began as a way to expand the number of programs that offer a challenge for people with physical disabilities.

The first hike was held in 1985 when Wilderness Institute board members got together to wheel to the sea over extremely rough terrain in another area of the Santa Monica Mountains, Childs said.

That route was deemed far too difficult, with its steep ascents and multiple creek crossings, so the switch was made to a starting point in Point Mugu State Park. The trail head at Point Mugu is more defined, he said.

"We wanted something rugged, for the challenges, yet achievable, and this hike has both of those components," Childs said.

For Saturday's hike, some participants will come from as far as San Diego and Riverside counties. Others will be from Ventura and Los Angeles counties. For many, it will be their first major outdoor experience, Childs said.

Each participant will be assisted during the outing by two or three able-bodied volunteers.

Transportation will be provided at pickup points at Kaiser Hospital in Woodland Hills and from Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa in Newbury Park. Participants will be taken about 8 a.m. to Danielson Ranch in Point Mugu State Park for the start of the hike about 10:30 a.m., Fuentes said.

Before setting out, each hiker will enjoy brunch and prepare for the hike's first major challenge, a steep hill leading away from the starting point. The hike will include crossing Sycamore Creek twice, Childs said.

"They'll get their feet and their wheels wet," Childs said.

There will be two breaks during the trek so people can rest and take in the beauty of the native flora and fauna. Once the group reaches the Pacific Coast Highway, the California Highway Patrol will stop traffic to allow everyone to safely cross the road to reach the picnic area.

The adventure is expected to take several hours, but participants will be shuttled back to their original meeting points by 5 p.m.

"It's every kind of terrain you can think of," Fuentes said. "It's hard and rocky and will be difficult at times, but it is very safe."

So far, about 20 hikers and 40 volunteers have signed up.

Interested hikers can still register, and more volunteers are needed.

The event is free, but registration is required by calling the Therapeutic Recreation Unit of the parks district at (805) 381-2739.

The recreation unit, which will hold another hike to the sea in the fall, is based in Thousand Oaks and offers wheelchair basketball and wheelchair golf.

Fuentes is also organizing other activities for summer, including swimming classes.



Wheel to the Sea will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Danielson Ranch at Point Mugu State Park. Make reservations for the free event at 381-2739.


Tip of the Week: The Santa Monica-based Children's Nature Institute will conduct a nature hike May 29 on Los Robles Trail in Thousand Oaks.

The institute will also hold its 10th annual Kids Nature Festival this Saturday at Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades.

There will be mazes and caves and a booth where kids can plant a flower to take home. There will also be a variety of activities.

Strollers and young children are welcome on the hike and at the festival.

The festival costs $6.50 for children and $8.50 for adults. There is no cost for the hike, but a $5 donation per family is requested.

For more information on the hike and the festival, call the institute at (310) 364-3591, Ext. 6.

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