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TRAILS PROJECT TO RESTORE BACKBONE : EL NINO-POWERED RAINS LEFT HIKERS WITH FEW OPTIONS IN SANTA MONICAS.

Byline: Deborah Sullivan Daily News Staff Writer

The Backbone Trail, which climbs the Santa Monica Mountains' panoramic peaks and dips into its lushest valleys, was no match for El Nino.

Storms driven by the tropical terror ripped into the Backbone Trail this winter, carving gullies in some portions, dumping mud on other sections and washing out some parts entirely. The abundant water also spurred plants, including poison oak, to grow over the trail.

``So it's made a very enjoyable walk through nature very arduous,'' said Frankie Farrell, outreach coordinator for Adventure 16 Outdoor and Travel Outfitters.

``You have to always be aware and always watch your footing. But we're going to fix that.''

To undo nature's wrath, the national and state park services, along with A-16, the Mountains Conservancy Foundation and the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Council, will sponsor a trail repair party today at Upper Solstice Canyon.

The sixth annual event will be one of several thousand nationwide National Trails Day and is expected to draw 100 to 150 volunteers to the scenic trail segment.

``It is an important segment of the Backbone Trail which goes from Will Rogers state historic park to Point Mugu, and we're much interested in getting the trail in good shape and completed,'' said Milt McAuley, one of the event organizers. McAuley is also the author of local trail guides such as ``Hiking Trails of the Santa Monica Mountains,'' ``Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains'' and ``Guide to the Backbone Trail of the Santa Monica Mountains.''

``It's a beautiful area,'' McAuley said. ``Geologically, it has just about every rock formation in the Santa Monica Mountains.''

The Sespe formation consists of huge boulders that rolled into the flood plain during rains from the east, creating the look of an oversized streambed, McAuley said.

There are several important plants in the area, too. They include hawkweed, a fuzzy-leaf plant in the sunflower family, and the endangered Santa Susana tarweed.

The 3-mile trail segment under restoration was chosen both for its natural significance and the extent of damage.

``This particular section got damaged very severely by the rainstorms in January,'' said Woody Smeck, chief of maintenance for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

``There are several large sections that have washed out and then there's sections of the trail that have very deep gully erosion, so it's difficult to walk, nearly impossible to take a bike or a horse there.''

Volunteers will trim overgrowth from the path and fix whatever physical damage can be repaired by hand. The U.S. Parks Service will later finish any remaining repairs that require mechanical equipment, Smeck said.

``The ultimate goal of National Trails Day is so that any American can within 15 miles of their home have a trail to hike on,'' Farrell said, ``to be able to get out into nature and enjoy it.''

BACKBONE VOLUNTEERS

About 150 volunteers are expected today at the Backbone Trail restoration for National Trails Day. More are welcome.

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

WHERE: Upper Solstice Canyon, Malibu. Parking at lot on Corral Canyon Road, 5-1/2 miles inland from Pacific Coast Highway.

BRING: Long pants and shirt, sturdy boots, hat, gloves, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent, water and lunch.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos, Box

PHOTO (1) Over 150 volunteers are expected to assist in repair work today for the rain-damaged Backbone Trail in the Upper Solstice Canyon area of the Santa Monica Mountains.

(2--3) Above, Woody Smeck, chief of maintenance for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, inspects some of the flora overgrowing from the deluge of water. At right, Smeck checks out a gully carved by winter rains.

Tina Gerson/Daily News

BOX: BACKBONE VOLUNTEERS (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 6, 1998
Words:621
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