In June of 2020, Ventura Land Trust (VLT) closed escrow on Harmon Canyon Preserve, Ventura’s first large scale nature preserve. At 2,123 acres Harmon Canyon features intact oak woodlands, riparian corridors, and extensive wildlife habitat. With the mission of protecting the land, water, wildlife, and scenic beauty of the Ventura region for current and future generations, the acquisition of Harmon Canyon is a major win for VLT as this property will now be protected in perpetuity. However, with the close of escrow, the real work begins.
With the close of escrow came the opening of Harmon Canyon Preserve. At first it was just a pedestrian gate through which preserve visitors could walk and pedal. After a spell, the trailhead enclosure was competed, providing an area for preserve visitors to park their vehicles that didn’t impact the flow of traffic on Foothill Road. And come they did. The popularity of Harmon Canyon continues to grow, as does the community’s demand for publicly accessible open space. But in sticking true to the mission, VLT maintains a delicate balance of both achieving our mission of protecting the land, water, wildlife, and scenic beauty of Ventura, while also providing the opportunity for our community to connect with nature, and in turn support our organization. So how do we provide sustainable public access? Through trails, of course.
Sustainable trail development is a topic with great depth and scientific backing. There are many books which do a much better job explaining it than we ever could. However, in simple terms, it comes down to the slope of the landscape, as well as the soil composition, average rainfall, user demographics, and design elements. Sustainable trail design utilizes an average slope of 7% - 10%.
Soil composition is studied and analyzed in relation to elements of a trail. For example, you wouldn’t want to place a switchback in an area that is extremely silty and prone to erosion. Additionally, design elements such as knicks and grade reversals are critical for managing water on the trail tread. Determining who the primary users of the trail will be and taking their needs into consideration when laying out the trail is equally important. There are multitude of factors that go into building sustainable trails, and luckily for VLT, there are some exceptionally talented trail builders helping us develop sustainable trails at Harmon Canyon.
In 2020, VLT commissioned a Conceptual Trail Plan for Harmon Canyon from IMBA Trail Solutions, a leader in trail design and development in North America. This conceptual plan used topographic maps and surveying to identify potential trail corridors at Harmon Canyon Preserve. Note that once these potential alignments are identified, they still must be ground-truthed. Frequently, a proposed alignment can look much different on the ground than it does from a topo map. Adjusting accordingly is critical to ensure that the final trail product features a sustainable alignment.
These potential trail corridors were packaged into a three phased approach for trail development at Harmon Canyon, starting with the lowest third of the canyon, and progressing north. The early-stage trails at Harmon are meant to be user friendly and accommodate a wide variety of user groups and skills levels. VLT expects each phase of trail development to take 3-5 years to complete.
Implementing the conceptual trail plan requires extensive ground truthing, or hiking the proposed trail alignment to survey the soil composition and check for localized features that may aid or hinder trail development. VLT has partnered with SAGE Trail Alliance for much of the physical trail development. The experience SAGE has in the development and maintenance of natural surface single track trails has been a huge asset to VLT.
By partnering with leaders in the sustainable trail development field, Ventura Land Trust will continue to strike a balance between conservation and recreation. Providing an opportunity for our community to connect with nature is critically important to VLT, just as protecting the land, water, wildlife, and scenic beauty is. By being intentional in our planning and execution of trail development, VLT will continue to increase the opportunity for recreation at Harmon Canyon, while ensuring the protection of the critical habitat that is Harmon Canyon Preserve.