The New Trail on the Block

Loving the June gloom, am I the only one who wants it to stay until September?

What can I say, OVLC has been on a roll.  In the last 3 years they have opened the Kennedy Ridge trail, Old Baldwin wheelchair accesible trail, not to mention the Gridley/Fuelbreak connector trail.  Next week they will branch out into a whole new preserve, above Shelf Road, and to the east of Pratt/Foothill trail.

The “Fox Canyon Trail” as it has been dubbed can be reached from the Signal Street entrance to Shelf Road, about 1/4 mile in.  Or you can go up Pratt, turn right onto what I like to call the “Rock Wall” trail just past the water tanks.  About a mile up you will hit the Fox Canyon Trailhead.  This would be around a 4 mile loop if you took it all the way around.

Preserve Manager Rick Bisaccia was kind enough to give us the skinny on the whole process.

1.  What were your thoughts when you first heard of the potential for a new preserve?  Were you familiar with the property at all?

I was real excited to hear about the possibility of getting to fully develop my first preserve as Preserve Manager.  Though Rio Vista and Steelhead have been acquired during my tenure, those two aren’t open to the public (yet) as this one will be  with its newly restored historic trails.  Of course I’m familiar with Shelf Road which runs at the south of the Valley View Preserve, but I’d never been on the Foothill Trail nor what is now called the Fox Canyon Trail when it existed.  

View of Shelf, a few switchbacks up

View of Shelf, a few switchbacks up

2.  What were the initial steps in turning the Valley View parcel into an area that can be enjoyed by the public?  Were there abandoned trails to start with?  If so what condition were they in?

Besides having to raise money which the office staff ably did, most of what has had to be dealt with was re opening the abandoned trails.  Foothill trail, which is the portion running east of Pratt to the preserve eastern boundary was partially there and used which went to the USFS’s Fuelbreak Road Trail.  We have since done trail repairs and brushing on that section and opened up the more easterly area which was covered over with brush with some intact trail beneath the chaparral.  Fox Canyon Trail which runs between Foothill Trail and Shelf Road to the new trailhead also had some tread buried in the brush.

This trail had been surveyed and built by USFS’s John Boggs in 1984, but was soon abandoned due to legal issues with the then landowner.  The Wheeler Fire the next year and succeeding erosion all but destroyed the trail on the southern exposure (that part visible from Shelf Road).

Mike Vaughan in blue on the lower Fox Canyon trail

Mike Vaughan in blue on the lower Fox Canyon trail

3.  Love the name Fox Canyon Trail, sounds like a nice Zinfandel.  How do you decide where its going to go and how its going to get there?

We luckily had a large  aerial photo taken in around 1986 post fire where you could clearly see the trails, which we transposed on other maps and charted the trail that way.  In some spots we changed the location to make the trail more maintainable over time.

Last switchback before heading back into the canyon

Last switchback before heading back into the canyon

4.  What are the indispensable tools for building a trail?  Would it have been possible without power tools?  

Humans with incredible enthusiasm and strength of purpose and heart were our greatest tool–mostly done by a volunteer crew under my direction made up of Gentlemen Over the Age of 57 (this is how we refer to ourselves).  Of course the McCleod, shovel, chainsaw, lopper and handsaw were all very necessary.  It could have been done without power tools, but using them saved time and money–much was done with hand tools in any case.

McLeod tool

McLeod tool

5.  What are the toughest parts about creating a new trail?   Do you find yourself running into dead ends where you have to backtrack and start again? 

I find brushing to be easiest and treadwork, especially with stone when you’re building crib walls and steps or hacking trail out of rock to be really hard on the ‘ol bod.

Sometimes we realized we’d gone slightly in the wrong place and had to re-do a section, but on the Valley View routes we had a pretty solid course we’d scouted and flagged with the help of Craig Carey and friends, and myself and Rob Young (the Aussie Ass Kicker).

Mike Gourley and Rob Young hacking rock

Mike Gourley and Rob Young hacking rock 

6.  How steep is too steep?  When do you decide that switchbacks are necessary?  What makes a properly constructed switchback? 

Almost any steepness would be doable for a trail, but if too vertical and rocky it would be time consuming and expensive.  Probably anything over a natural 10 or so degree grade pretty much warrants switchbacks.  With switchbacks you don’t want to exceed 20 degrees and 8 is optimum with various degrees in between.  One trick of switchback making is to have the trail slope up into the landing or turn and come out of it on with the slope heading up.  You don’t want the trail to be flat coming in and out of the landing.

Stairway to heaven

Stairway to heaven

7.  What plants dominated the Fox Canyon trail?  Which were the toughest to deal with?  Any plants you were surprised to see?  

Fox Canyon Trail is dominated by chaparral species in particular big pod ceanthothus, laurel sumac, bush mallow and chamise.  There is also buckwheat, purple, black and California sages.  Even our official state grass (purple needle grass) grows here and there.  

It seems to me that Ceanothus spinosus (greenbark ceanothus) is always the toughest because of its thorns and the way it overhangs the trail.  There are some shady sections up higher on Fox that had swaths of miner’s lettuce and several species of ferns.  This area burned over hard in the Wheeler Fire and I’d say it really affected it in a way that even 25 years later it’s still trying to recover. 

Big pod ceanothus minus some limbs

Big pod ceanothus minus some limbs

 8.  Do you foresee a lot of follow-up work if we ever have another rainy season again?  Are waterbars installed or do you wait to see where the runoff is going?

We do indeed foresee some follow up work when it rains again (I know, hard to imagine now–but you just wait–history tells us that droughts here get followed within a few years by massive rainfall and flooding) particularly on the soft southern exposure headed down from the top to Shelf Road and Fox Canyon Trailhead.

Talking with Mike Vaughan and the CREW who have mostly built that section he thinks we’ll have to see how it settles in and put some money aside to do some repairs.  We have put some water bars in and built the trail to shed water, but no doubt we’ll have to add something.  One thing which is unusual for OVLC (Kennedy Ridge Trail notwithstanding) is that Fox Canyon Trail is closed to horses due to its sensitive soil structure and steepness.  Mike Vaughan who is a packer for the USFS and owns nine horses agreed totally with this assessment.

Laurel sumac I think?

Laurel sumac I think?

9.  What is the future of this particular trail system? Are there other routes still being considered?

OVLC is working on getting access further to the east of our current eastern boundary. Historically, the Foothill Trail ran all the way to the private driveway just up from Gridley Road just before you hit the trailhead.  There is a sign at the former trail terminus behind a tall fence which reads: Danger Trail Closed.  There are two properties we need to get permission to cross, and the one just east of the Valley View Preserve is the most doable at this time.  Another route is being considered going up out of the trailhead which would create a loop trail joining in with Foothill more to the east.  Because of the costs involved and possible redundancy (and let’s not forget upkeep!) this is something we’d have to look at very carefully.

Looking north at the Fox Canyon/Fuelbreak Connector split

Looking north at the Fox Canyon/Fuelbreak Connector split

10.  Any thanks you’d like to send out to the great crew who helped out?

Mike Gourley, Rob Young, Jamie Weil, Paula Power, Bill Brothers, Craig Carey, Trevor Marshal, Mark Tolkmitt, Mike Vaughan and the CREW

End of the Rockwall trail, beginning of Fox Canyon, facing East

End of the Rockwall trail, beginning of Fox Canyon, facing East

Official opening is next weekend, come out and enjoy.  Thanks to everyone who made this project happen.

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One Response to The New Trail on the Block

  1. ocdreader says:

    Nice! I will have to try that one out when we have a nice solidly overcast day :)

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