By George Stahl
Special to the Sun
Since 2004, the Stewards of the Sequoia have been under the umbrella of the California Trail Users Coalition. That changed on Saturday, June 23, when the group held their first official Board Meeting as their own 501(c)3 organization. At their biennial Trail Preservation Fundraiser barbecue held at Democrat Hot Springs Resort, President of the Stewards, Chris Horgan, introduced the three member Board of Directors: V.P. Bruce Miller, Secretary Lyle Teunissen, and himself. “Now we can operate more effectively. The California Trail Users Coalition is an umbrella for start ups. We have been under them for too long. It’s time for us to branch out on our own and to be partners with them and to rely more on ourselves,” Horgan said. The first order of business was for the board to present the members with the bylaws of the Stewards. After that was done and a short question and answer period took place, President Horgan adjourned the meeting and officially opened the barbecue by thanking the crew from Salty’s Restaurant of Bakersfield for the meal.
The Stewards have been a long-time fixture on the trails of the Sequoia National Forest. At the same time, they have been an occasional thorn in the side of the Forest Service. “We haven’t always seen eye to eye on some of the Forest Service’s plans for the trails, but we have usually been able to work with them effectively. It’s only when government bureaucracy gets so involved that we need to step up and say, ‘No! That’s not right.’”
Horgan addressed the more than 170 attendees. “When we stand up, we usually get results, slowly sometimes,” he said. “I would like to recognize some of our long time volunteers who have been clearing trail with us, some of them since the beginning, with this special Leatherman tool engraved with their names,” Horgan said as he named 11 men, most of whom were at the dinner. They range in age, skill set, and time with the organization, but what they all have in common is their passion for what the Stewards stand for, and for ensuring that the trails are available and cleared for everyone to enjoy.
The evening flowed as the sun was setting behind the mountains, creating a surreal environment around the greenbelt on the shore of the Kern River below the resort. Horgan gave a short PowerPoint presentation on the subject of ‘airing down.’ “The idea here is that by letting a little air out of your rear tire, you can get better traction on the trails and will not dig into the soft dirt as much as you would with solid tires. Airing down can definitely be a good tool to use in keeping the trails ridable,” Horgan said. “The most overlooked performance gain for dirt bikes! Airing down,” Horgan said encouraging everyone to use the technique the next time they go on the trails. “It’s good for the rider and it’s good for the trail,” he said.
Since their inception in 2004, the Stewards have maintained over 3,800 miles of trails crisscrossing the Sequoia National Forest, according to their statistics. They have been responsible for clearing nearly 10,000 trees from the trails and have built more than 5,500 water bars. All of this has been done by those 11 volunteers and countless others who give up days, weeks and even hours of their days to join them on the trails, taking their bike into some precarious situations, but doing it with the goal of preserving the multi-use and single track trail in the mountains of the forest.
Arron Falk, Representative for Congressman Kevin McCarthy was at the event. “Congressman McCarthy is a huge proponent for the preservation of the trails in the National Forests, especially those here in Kern County. He sees the need to preserve these for everyone to be able to enjoy access to the outdoors. The Stewards of the Sequoia have been a great partner, especially Chris, with Congressman McCarthy in helping to ensure this continued use. The Stewards have our support,” Falk said.
Over the years, the Stewards have taken on over 14 different projects aimed at either reopening or preventing the closure of numerous trails in the Sequoia Forest footprint. “We have some ongoing projects, but we are still taking on new ones,” Horgan said. Recently, the group has taken on the challenge of stopping what they call, ‘The Pacific Crest Trail Land Grab.’ According to their website, they have become aware of a plan by the Pacific Crest Trail Association to create a one mile wide PCT corridor that, according to the Stewards, would restrict all forms of recreation and land management in three national forests, including the Sequoia. According to Horgan, “This could lead to the closure of 20 to 30 percent of the existing multiple use trails in the PCT area of the Sequoia alone.”
“We are not about taking away usable trails, we are promoting the maintaining of multiple use trails for everyone to enjoy. Motorized users as well as hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders alike,” Horgan said, “and at the same time working with the Forest Service to ensure the future of these trails and the beauty that surrounds them for everyone.” After Horgan gave his presentation, he was awarded with a standing ovation from the attendees in their show of support for the Stewards and for Horgan. “I am truly humbled and thankful to see how our efforts have effected so many people in the last 14 years. I have made many friends along the way and am grateful for everyone’s work on the trails. Sometimes I can feel like what we do is a thankless job, but then, I see all of these people here tonight, and their appreciation, it is overwhelming,” Horgan said.
The event was sponsored by several individuals and clubs, including the Piute Trail Riders, Bakersfield Trailblazers, Chaparrals, NOOBS, WARPED, Ventura County Motorcycle Club, Los Coyotes Motorcycle Club and N2 Dirt, along with the Kern River Brewery. “I would like to thank all of our sponsors for the evening. I would also like to thank, Brent ‘Brento’ Needham, of Adventure Center Powersports from Bakersfield for providing us with this beautiful spot on the Kern through the people at Democrat Hot Springs,” Horgan told the crowd. “A special thanks to Sarah (Rooffener) for baking all of these great desserts on a last minute notice for 200 people!” he said.
Closing out the event, a raffle with over $9,500 of donated prizes was held and a total of $7,550 was taken in for the night’s efforts. “Thank you to all of our 3,000 members, and I challenge each of you to bring in one member,” Horgan laughed.
Stewards of the Sequoia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org