Home Resources

Developer promises to reopen Franklin Trail

Santa Barbara News-Press 11 February 2005

Camilla Cohee

Local hikers are thrilled with a developer's proposal to reopen the historic Franklin Trail, once a popular trek through the Carpinteria foothills into the national forest that was closed in the 1970s.

Reopening of the 6.2-mile trail is being promoted as part of a Montecito developer's plan to build 25 large ranch-style homes on 40 acres of the 3,150-acre Rancho Monte Alegre in Carpinteria.

Owners of the property, who include Montecitan Tad Buchanan, are promising to rededicate the trail, which runs through the ranch. They will sweeten the deal by leaving most of the land as open space -- placing 2,800 acres in the hands of The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.

Besides Toro Canyon Park, the Franklin Trail is the only opportunity for hiking in the Carpinteria Valley and is the only route from the area up to East Camino Cielo and into the backcountry.

One local historian said Franklin Trail was created in 1913, though others say it dates to the 1880s or perhaps earlier.

"In the early days, it was the way Carpinterians went hunting into the backcountry," said E.R. Jim Blakley, an 80-year-old Santa Barbaran who has studied local trails.

"There was an old Carpinteria gentleman, Mr. Ramey, who kept that Franklin Trail open in the 1920s. He had a reason. He'd built a cabin up there by Jameson Lake, and he used to pack in cans of corn and distill it into whiskey. During hunting season, all the hunters back there would come by and get fortified with his corn whiskey."

As the years passed, the trail was used more for pleasure hiking until the concerns of a former Rancho Monte Alegre property owner led to its closure. At one point, a judge ordered that a chain-link fence be installed along the stretch of the trail that runs through the ranch, though that never happened.

Mr. Buchanan and two partners purchased the ranch in May for $20 million.

Although zoned for agriculture, it has 39 legal parcels -- allowing an owner to build one single-family residence per parcel.

Carpinterians had a chance to learn more about the trail reopening, and about the Rancho Monte Alegre development in general, during a meeting Wednesday at Canalino School. About 120 people attended, many with questions about the size and scale of the proposed homes, scarcity of water, traffic and environmental impacts, and other concerns.

There were a few gasps from members in the audience when they learned that one of the 25 homes built could be as large as 12,000 square feet. The developers explained that there would be specific guidelines for what is permissible in terms of home design and property use for each parcel.

A hiker himself, Mr. Buchanan said the trail easement will be put under the control of the county, which would be responsible for ongoing maintenance. County parks officials say they're counting on grant money to maintain the trail once it's opened.

"When I heard there were no trails in Carpinteria, I felt it was truly a shame," Mr. Buchanan said, adding that he enjoys hiking with his children on weekends.

He said several entities must work together to make the trail reopening happen, including the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the land on the upper stretch of the trail, and the Horton family, which owns the property where the trailhead is, near Carpinteria High School.

John Venable, president of the Montecito Trails Foundation, said his group is impressed by Mr. Buchanan's proposal and plans to help construct the trail in the areas where that may be necessary.

Mr. Venable said there is also a plan to link the Toro Canyon Trail to the Franklin Trail.

"We feel really positive about this," Mr. Venable said. "It will really open up a nice access to the backcountry."

Other local hiking groups are eager to see the project carried out and are willing to help maintain the trail.

"Reopening that trail is absolutely critical to the development of a trail network in the Carpinteria area," said Ray Ford, who runs Santa Barbara Day Hikes. He said the the Franklin Trail dates to the 1880s.

"It's very steep, very beautiful," added local hiker Vivian Obern. "It's wonderful that this is happening."