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Backcountry loop opens for guided hikes

15 August 2004

Santa Barbara News-Press

Melinda Burns

The Bill Wallace Trail, a 12-mile loop through the backcountry of the El Capitan Ranch on the Gaviota coast, is now open to the public on Saturdays for docent-led hikes.

In 2002, a land trust purchased portions of the ranch, which was then transferred to the state Department of Parks and Recreation. But, because of the state budget crisis, the 2,500-acre property was never opened to the public. It is located just north of El Capitan State Beach, on the north side of Highway 101.

The trail-access program is a combined effort of state parks, the Santa Barbara Trust for Public Land, and Larry Callahan and Roger Himovitz, the owners of the El Capitan Canyon Campground, a private facility. With private donations, a state parks docent will now be available to guide hikers into the old ranch once a week.

The Bill Wallace Trail is named after the former five-term county supervisor, a staunch environmentalist who sought to limit development on the Gaviota Coast. The trail is on an abandoned Texaco oil road that goes through chaparral and sagebrush, rising 1,000 feet in elevation, with views of the ocean, El Capitan Creek and Exxon's Las Flores oil and gas processing plant. The top of the trail is about six miles below the ridgeline of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Mr. Himovitz is one of the former owners who sold portions of the ranch to a land trust for $9.5 million. Mr. Himovitz and Mr. Callahan have now joined with state parks and two nonprofit groups, Friends of Channel Coast State Park and the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, to raise funds so that the public can someday visit El Capitan Ranch daily.

Hikers wishing to use the Bill Wallace trail on Saturdays should call 733-1303 for reservations. The guided hikes are free and will begin at 9 a.m. at the campground's Canyon Store. All ages are welcome. The length of each hike will vary, depending on how many people sign up, and how far they want to go.