The Ken Burton trail and early MWBA success.

Ken Burton trail viewed from Slide Canyon. June 16, 1992.
Ken Burton trail viewed from Slide Canyon. June 16, 1992.

Built by MWBA volunteers in the early 1990s, the Ken Burton trail was constructed by mountain bikers specifically for all trail users.

The 2009 Station Fire damaged the trail and the following massive sediment flows destroyed the Gabrielino trail below. In the 6 years since the fire, nature heavily overtook the trail. In late 2015, CORBA & MWBA volunteers started restoration work on the Ken Burton trail in the Angeles National Forest. Our volunteers have been working hard and we hope to have the USFS reopen the Ken Burton trail sometime in Spring 2016. Some volunteers are there because they miss the Ken Burton trail and want to ride it again. Others have never experienced Burton and are full of questions about the trail and its origins.

Recently, I spent some time with original MWBA member Ray Juncal and a lot of our conversation surrounded construction of the Ken Burton trail. Ray has kept a collection of early MWBA photographs, artwork, and magazine articles. Burton truly represents the success of early MWBA members and its mission that our trails should be for all users.

The Ken Burton trail is the first and only official trail built by mountain bikers in the Angeles National Forest.

As far as I know, it may be the only “modern” single track trail built in the forest. Most other single tracks likely got their start as wild animal trails that became hiking trails in the 1920s “Great Hiking Era”.

It was very important to early MWBA trail workers that Ken Burton could be enjoyed by equestrians and hikers as well as mountain bikers, a true multi-user trail. Built by mountain bikers, but full access for all trail users.

Alan Armstrong, Chuck Devore, Sam Juncal, Alan Seims, and Reece Vogel installing the Ken Burton
Alan Armstrong, Chuck Devore, Sam Juncal, Alan Seims, and Reece Vogel installing the Ken Burton “Under Contruction” sign.

USFS District Ranger Terry Ellis was a great ally of the early MWBA crew. He recognized the positive force behind MWBA and knew that their trail work was for the greater good of the Angeles National Forest. In 1991, MWBA started work on the Ken Burton trail, but the trail’s history starts beforehand.

USFS Ranger Will Shaw was one reason the Ken Burton trail was built. Will also supported the enthusiastic trail workers of MWBA. He was an equestrian and with his friend, USFS fire fighter Ken Burton, would ride up the Brown Mtn road on horseback and then out a short, rough trail from the upper saddle around the ridge. Will & Ken would commonly ride out to the spot where volunteers built the monument and equestrian “Hitching Rack.”

Ken Burton
Ken Burton

Ken Burton was the Superintendent of the Chantry Flats Helishot & Helitack Crew on the Arroyo Seco River District until 1982. In 1983, Ken took the job as Assistant Fire Manager job on the Valyermo River District and then returned to the Arroyo Seco in 1985. Tragically, in November of 1985 Ken passed away on the Angeles Crest in a car accident with a drunk driver. Will Shaw was a driving force supporting MWBA’s build of the official trail and dedicating it in Ken’s honor. The Ken Burton trail was born and grew beyond that original rough trail into a fantastic single track that descended to the Gabrielino below.

Starting in 1991, MWBA volunteers built the entire 2.7 mile Ken Burton trail over 3 years. In April 1995, there was an official USFS ceremony opening the trail and honoring Ken Burton.

The dedication ceremony was a great celebration and there was a large group up the mountain from the USFS and a good variety of trail users. Of course, MWBA was out in full force as they wouldn’t miss a “celebration”.

Currently, the original plaque on the monument is missing. MWBA and CORBA plan to have the plaque replaced and the monument area restored.

Ken's daughters Heather and Tania at the dedication ceremony,.
Ken’s daughters Heather and Tania at the dedication ceremony,.
The Ken Burton Monument and a Photograph on the dedication day.
The Ken Burton Monument on the dedication day.
Two unknown men at the new Ken Burton trail sign.
Jim & Dale Burton, Ken’s brothers, at the trail sign made by Ray Juncal. The Smokey Bear poster covered the original “Trail Closed! Work in Progress”

Building the Ken Burton trail was hard work; however, MWBA volunteers had learned a lot about sustainability and solid trail design by the time they tackled the task. The trail was built with with quality materials and a keen eye on drainage. Despite the Station Fire and following sediment flows, most of the upper section of Ken Burton is in good shape. After heavy brush clearance in late 2015, volunteers restored the tread out to the monument and hitching spot where Will & Ken would enjoy the wide view of the forest.

Within this upper area is the “Washburn Cut,” a long section of trail held by a solid retaining wall built with posts and heavy wire backing material. Ken Washburn surveyed that section of trail and MWBA figured out how to make it sustainable. The area is full of heavy granite and the retaining wall helped create a trail tread. In the below article, Ken is quoted: “The Forest Service gave up on the area because there was a lot of granite that made cutting a trail difficult, but we got it through. We had to install and fill quite a few baskets. It was tough.” Over 20 years later, the retaining wall MWBA built is still in great condition. Only one spot in the “Washburn Cut” was blown through by heavy water runoff. CORBA and MWBA plan to repair that spot with increased support.

August 1995 article in Mountain Bike about MWBA & their experience building the Ken Burton trail.
August 1995 article in Mountain Bike about MWBA & their experience building the Ken Burton trail.

In August 1995, Zapata Espinoza wrote a great article on the Ken Burton trail and MWBA for the now defunct “Mountain Bike” magazine.

Ray Juncal told me, “Zap was a huge MWBA supporter what we did would not have been possible without him. He vouched for MWBA with bike industry people, provided lots of schwag to raffle off each work day, and leaned on bike companies to cough up high zoot bikes and stuff for the MWBA Pancake Breakfast.”

The article focuses on the experiences of individual MWBA volunteers in building the trail. We are lucky that Ray kept a copy of the magazine and all four pages are presented here in PDF form.

In the article, Reece Vogel is quoted, “From the very beginning we knew that mountain bikers might not even be allowed to use the trail for the first two years. And that was really OK with us because what we wanted most was the credibility such a project would no doubt ensure. We wanted exclusive working rights to the trail so that we could build the best multi-user trail possible.”

Hans Keifer, now owner of trail building company Bellfree Contractors, talks about the huge job of cutting the trail through thick Poison Oak at the bottom of Ken Burton where it nears the Gabrielino: “We had to wear long sleeves and pants to protect us from the poison oak and it was about 102 degrees out. It was especially brutal when we had to climb back out. When we came back about a month later to put the baskets in, even though all the bushes were cut away, there was still poison oak in the dirt and we ending up getting hit by it again.”

From Ray Juncal, “Planting trees at the top of Brown in 1992. Hauled up in that Burley. They burned up in the Station Fire. They were twenty feet high when they burned. Not bad from a milk carton start. L-R Me, Chuck Devore, Reece Vogel, Seth Juncal, and Joe Chromiak.”

MWBA even planted a few trees at the Ken Burton trail head 6 miles up Brown Mtn Rd. The trees burned in the Station Fire and just recently fell. MWBA has been lobbying the USFS to allow planting of new trees to replace the ones burned in the Station Fire.

In the 1990s, Brown Mountain Rd was a wide fire road and MWBA volunteers were given permission to drive up with tools and materials. This was a tremendous help. Now, following the Station Fire, Brown Mountain Rd has become a single track and current restoration volunteers are hauling up tools and materials in BOB trailers. Tough work!

BOB Trailer
Erik Hillard’s photo of the MWBA BOB trailer he pulled up Brown Mtn to Ken Burton trail work in November 2015.

Both MWBA and CORBA volunteers have been working overtime on Ken Burton in hopes to open the trail in Spring 2016.

For over 6 months, volunteers have been coming out nearly every other week and making the 6 mile climb up with tools to work on the trail.  Without the generous volunteers, the Ken Burton trail would remain closed.  The Radavist article published a wonderful photo gallery of the many volunteers that are putting their sweat into restoring Ken Burton.

Here are a few of John’s great photos from the trail work day. There are many more in his article gallery you should check out as well. All photos below copyright John Watson/The Radavist.

Beyond the photo gallery, The Radavist and Ace from the Sleepers shot video on the trail work day.

The video has a great interview with Steve Messer of CORBA and cameos by Mike and Robin McGuire.

Shot and Edited by Ace Carretero
Sound Design by Riccardo Stanley Mejia


  1. This is a great article. Thanks to Erik, Ray and all who have contributed to it.

    And it’s great to hear a voice from the past. Reece, your comments add a lot to the memory of what was a great period of time for a lot of people.

    I’ll leave the discussion of the trail building process to others, and limit my input to a discussion of the BBQ that followed the trail dedication ceremony. The inclusion of the photo of the invitation to that event gave me the date, April 8, 1995. That is a detail that had been long lost to me. Endowed with that piece of information I was certain I would find some evidence online to support my recollections of the evening that followed the ceremony. (It was the evening after the ceremony wasn’t it? Not the night before?) I’m sure that no one who was there would deny that many of us had brought tents and had planned to camp after the “BBQ”, and I would think that there would be general support for the assertion that it was a pleasant evening with about twenty or thirty of the usual suspects ending the day in the manner to which we had become accustomed, with adequate quantities of excellent food and cheap beer. I’m not sure of the time of evening, but I recall, and I expect others would agree, that what was otherwise a calm evening was interrupted by the sound of a locomotive coming from the north/northeast. And about ten seconds later we were hit by hurricane force winds. I saw my own tent blown over the hill and stop, temporarily, at least a hundred yards below us in the chaparral.

    Immediately before this happened I was talking with three other people. I don’t remember who. But I know I wasn’t the only person who saw it. I could call it a meteor, and maybe that’s the word to use, except that I’ve spent many nights up at Chilao watching the Persied meteor showers with all of the same suspects, and this was very different. A number of years later I was watching the PBS show Asteroids, which opened with a computer animated video of a not quite spherical, irregularly shaped object hurtling through the atmosphere with sparks flying off the high points as it tumbled forward. That is what I saw cross from roughly south to north just above the western horizon. Even before the PBS show I always said it was like a Volkswagen, tumbling through the sky with sparks flying off the corners. And a short time later, in the middle of a calm night, from the direction in which this object disappeared, the winds came. We cleaned up as best we could, went home and returned the next morning. By the time I got there, Joe had found my tent, it had been carried back up out of the canyon and landed about a hundred feet above the saddle.

    After websearching that date for weather, meteors, asteroids and UFOs in Southern California it is clear that I am the only one reporting it. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So there.

  2. An image I clicked on at Google led me to the MWBA site and Erik’s wonderful article on the Burton Trail that’s kind of couched in an “Ancient History” context. It brought back a lot of great memories of a different time, a different era and a different world.

    I’m so happy to see that the Burton is being restored. Undertaking the construction was a watershed moment in mountain bike activism. There is no other place in the world like the Angeles National Forest: 1/4 of LA County and next to a hugely populated city. What happens here makes a difference everywhere else. Building the Burton proved we were as serious, dedicated and as passionate about the Forest as anyone else. The trail was kind of a political hot potato because there was a lot pressure not to open it to cyclists. There was an emotional aspect to it too as everyone associated with it at the Forest Service had really loved Ken Burton and honoring his memory was a top priority. It seemed absurd that a modern trail would be built excluding any valid trail user, and we banked on that even taking it on knowing that we might never be able to ride it. We also felt that if we built it they ultimately couldn’t deny us access without really putting a spotlight on a patently unfair and baseless bias. Frankly, no other trail group was willing to take it on because of its remoteness and the scale of the project. But we had the younger (except for Juncal), enthusiastic work force and the resources to buy the materials it would take to pull it off. Sometimes I wonder if we hadn’t built it if it would ever have been completed. In the end we earned the respect of and became friends with our former “adversaries.” It was pretty cool.

    I have to mention Terry Ellis. He was a wonderful man and truly an advocate for ALL trail users knowing that the Angeles is an urban forest. His dedication to fairness even tested our tolerance at times. I learned a lot from Terry. It was an honor to work with him and without his help, support and friendship our job of contributing to the Forest would have been much, much harder. I had the pleasure of riding the Burton with Terry and Will Shaw before it was officially opened. It was a real “Whoa, Nellie” experience for them and Terry hit a small stump in the upper part of the trail and went over the bars. We laughed and Will made some crack about how bad it would look if the Ranger broke his neck on the Burton. Aside from the esteemed company, it was like any other time a few dudes went for a ride. I promised Terry we’d get rid of that stump before the trail opened.

    I think it’s important for the current generation working on the Burton to fully appreciate that we didn’t rough cut the trail. Shaw did that using court crews and he took a sinister delight in exposing them to extreme poison oak and backbreaking labor. Will just had to have that damn hitching post as the focus of the trail, with its spectacular view of the Arroyo and the Los Angeles skyline in the distance. If we been able to offer input earlier, the entire trail would have been laid out differently. It would have begun the descent right away, and we could have built a spur up to the hitching post and there wouldn’t have been the ridiculous drop into Oakwilde. It would have been infinitely easier to build and maintain and a monumentally greater trail, but that’s history.

    There are so many but I guess my favorite big memory of building the Burton was when it came to popping open the bottom at Oakwilde. It was a terrible place to have to finish it up but the old historical trail that you used to be able to just make out above and directly to the west was a much larger engineering project and substantially more dangerous to build. I think there was also some thing about its “historical status” that prevented us from altering it. We knew we would need to get a tremendous amount of materials to the bottom and soon the poison oak would be in full bloom making the job a virtual death sentence. I asked Terry if we could get some helicopter time to drop the materials in and the request was declined because the time allotment available to the Forest Service was limited and had to be held in reserve for more important things that might come up. And to be perfectly honest, there were a few bureaucratic lifers further down the food chain that enjoyed making it as hard for us as possible. So I called “Wild” Will Shaw at home one evening and asked if he could help. He called back ten minutes later and told me to be at the first turnout below the residences/fire station at 10 sharp the next morning with all our materials and the coordinates for where we wanted the stuff dropped (this was the early days of consumer GPS, expensive and the size of paperback, so we got ’em off a USGS map of the forest). Lars and I headed up there and sure enough, at ten sharp the old Air 5 Sikorsky helicopter came chugging up the arroyo and landed in the turnout. Turns out Will was buddies with the Captain of the Sheriff Department’s heli-squad out of Long Beach and pulled in a favor. It was a warm morning and the air was dense. They couldn’t get the chopper to lift off with all the weight so they kicked out all the sheriffs riding on Air 5 to save weight ( shoulda heard them cussing about “What is this bullshit?!) and it eventually took two or three trips to get all the stuff to the bottom of the trail. And they dropped it all on a dime. Lars and I had to sit inside the truck during the takeoffs and landings because of the violent rotor wash and our truck was rocking side to side like a little toy. I remember turning to Lars and saying, “God, this is so bitchen!” The job finished, Air 5 went on its merry way to Barley Flats. I was looking forward to the monthly 6 a.m. meeting with the FS and other volunteer representatives following this escapade. I walked in and there they were. It was dead silent and they all were sporting little smiles. Don Guilliland finally asked, “Well Reece, did you get your materials down to Oakwilde?” “Yep, sure did. Thanks.” Apparently all the radios and phones started going off like crazy at Oak Grove Park, the former HQ of the FS, with everyone wondering why the hell Air 5 was landing unannounced on the Angeles Crest Highway. Wild Will loved the Forest, and like the MWBA, put a premium on action over talk. He would sidestep the bureaucracy or bend the rules to do what needed to be done. God bless him. He was the real deal. I also remember going to a Christmas party at his house behind JPL where we were smoking joints and decided to get into Pierre’s Model T jitney to make a beer run. Picture us all piled into the T slowly trying to get back up the hill with the exhaust manifold so hot it was glowing a bright red. But I digress….

    I’ll admit now that I did ride the Burton halfway through the project. Honestly, it really helps to apply the feedback from riding a spot and transfer it to the practical aspect of building or maintaining a trail. I’m sure most folks that worked on it felt the same way when building a switchback and wondering how it would ride. It was late in the day and the sky was very dark as a storm was moving in. Nobody else was on BMR and it was drizzling lightly. As I started down the trail, I was astounded by the beauty; how green it was. The dew-like rain had left a million droplets on the leaves and tiny blue flowers were blooming on some of the plants. It was as beautiful to me as any trail I had ridden in Colorado or anywhere else. Wow, and the sense of pride. I’ll never forget that as long as I live…

    The Burton was a great experience. The diverse cast of characters that worked on it were a great bunch of folks and as tight as any loose group of people could be. It was much more informal then, by design. I think – hope – everyone had a sense they were part of something unique.

    Keep up the good work, have fun, and love to all


  3. Great article Erik, thanks for investigating it and putting it down on paper. What a blast from the past. It’s filled with great memories of that era. Just look at those funny jerseys and we were all 24 years younger, and so skinny. Back then we started at 8am and it was said we’ll work to 1-1:30 but that always meant 2 to 2:30. Joe would never come off the trail till after 3pm, the rest of us had a head start on the beer and sodas. No food served back than. MWBA always attracted 15 to 25 people that faithfully showed up last Saturday of the month. It was a awesome group of guys and girls. Happily the current MWBA is starting to attract the same quality of people that’s coming out monthly. We love to ride, and we love to give back.
    Thanks again Erik for the awesome write up.

  4. Ken Burton was a family friend and one of the best men I have ever known. It was a true tragedy when he died, the world was a better place while he was still in it.
    I’m so happy to see this trail being restored in his honor. Kenny loved the forest and he loved his family. Bless everyone of you for working so hard to bring this trail back to life and in your way keeping Kenny’s memory alive. I never see a red tailed hawk that I don’t think of him.

  5. This hit me right in the feels. Great times with some of the best people ever. Erik, thank you for writing this awesome article. To the rest of the MWBA: “You know what to do!”

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