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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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!
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