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Save the Trails

Hope Ranch's Protest

Hunter Hawkins

Imagine walking in one of your most cherished places, a place where you got to grow and share memories with your friends and family for years — but suddenly, a big, “no trespassing” sign obstructs your way.

Without any warning, Hope Ranch residents and visitors alike were denied access from the Laguna Blanca Trail recently.

Ever since one of Hope Ranch’s original visionaries, Harold Chase, created the community we know today as “one of the few of its kind left,” according to longtime Hope Ranch resident Vanessa Shotwell, the community has thrived, in part, because of its vastly needed and most appreciated trails.

When one trail’s closing turned into every trail’s closing, for the Montecito Trails, it was because individual residents thought that they could close the trails running through their properties without a fuss. “Our trail system is what makes the Ranch so amazing…it connects its residents on a personal level. In fact, this problem has brought more and more residents together,” said Megan Blankenship, who grew up in Hope Ranch’s original Thomas Hope House, built in 1875.

The Hope Ranch trails are like a “life-blood system,” each connection is crucial to the next, and that is exactly what makes it such a special place.

“So often you hear of wonderful and charming areas like it dissipating. We can’t let this happen,” she said. “If we lose this trail, I believe that it will be the beginning of the end for completely losing our trails.”

Hope Ranch trails are not only for the horse riders — they’re for pretty much anyone and everyone to enjoy, from families who have lived near and loved Hope Ranch’s trails for hiking and making memories, to Laguna’s cross country team, who use the trails for practice, to students who use the trails to walk to school every morning — these are the people who use our trails.

Laguna student body president, Grace MacNeil, is one of the many passionate, campaigning residents who sent a letter to the Hope Ranch Board of Directors to help sway the movement and bring back the trail.

“[The Laguna Blanca trail] serves as an important multifaceted form of extracurricular education, quick transportation, and a source of relaxation for all of Laguna.…I am not only speaking for myself but for the many students I have been given the great opportunity to represent.”

MacNeil thinks that if a passageway has been open to the public for so long a time, there should be no private claim over it.

The Laguna Blanca Trail has deep roots with Laguna Blanca School and many of its students and teachers, and that’s just one trail. If there is this much meaning behind one trail, one can only imagine how much history is packed into every one of Hope Ranch’s trails, which have been open for over 70 years.

MacNeil was not the only one to address the Hope Ranch Board by writing a letter. Darcy Christal, a Laguna Blanca parent, wrote to share the great value of the trails to her and her four children, including sophomore Maxx Christal.

She mentions how Maxx would frequently walk the Laguna Blanca trail as a means of mobility exercise, but since it became closed, “our children are now being forced to walk along Estrella Drive when going to school. Walking or riding on Estrella Drive can be dangerous.”

She concluded that, “it seems to defy logic that instead of opening up more trails to keep our community safe, we’re closing them down.”

Christal also cited Hope Ranch’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), saying that “no where in the document does it allow for a property owner to terminate a common easement at Hope Ranch,” and that the CC&Rs “Bridal Trail Easements” states that “each lot is hereby declared to have an easement over the Common Area for the benefit of the Owner…” meaning that whoever closed off the LB Trail was not supposed to do so, and that it was an overall backwards decision to close the trail, since Ranch properties with access to trails actually have an increased real estate value — because of the trails’ immense benefits, not only to the homeowners, but also to the entire community.

This breach in CC&Rs, over a trail that has been in existence for at least 70 years, should not and is not being tolerated.

Thanks to Hope Ranch resident, Geri Bidwell, founder of “Save the Laguna Blanca Trail” campaign, there is definite action being taken.

The campaign’s Facebook page, “SAVE The Laguna Blanca Trail (and [sic] all other trails in Hope Ranch),” has 441 members and abounds with pictures of signs, letters to the HR Board, and stories of trail-rescuing campaign supporters—it is just one of the ways Bidwell has raised awareness. She wants all users of the trails, students and faculty of Laguna Blanca, and the HR Board to understand how important this one little trail is in a practical, historical, and community-keeping way.

There are many potential consequences to consider because of this trail being shut down, one of which is the possibility of a lawsuit waiting to happen — as one of our student supporters of the campaign, Fiona Flynn, said, “If people have to start walking on Estrella Drive, a narrow road with a blind spot, eventually someone’s going to get hurt — possibly killed.”

Many agree, and have said so in the numerous public letters sent to the HR Board.

Driving on Estrella is dangerous, and it thus discourages trail goers from hiking on it side of Hope Ranch.

“If we can resolve this peacefully, everyone will save a lot of time, money, and an incredibly important place for the community,” Bidwell said.

The Board, however, has yet to address the injustice.

Those involved in this controversy — including many Laguna Blanca students — are concerned and invested in the outcome of this event. “The kids might be the ones to save the trail,” Bidwell said.

In recent developments, the Hope Ranch residents along with Geri Bidwell are working with new attorney Peter Umoff, of Seed Mackall LLP. Umoff, who replaced former attorney David Grockenberger, met with Land Use and Zoning attorney Kathleen Weinheimer on Oct. 17. According to the Facebook page, “FACT : THE TALKS CONTINUE…”

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