Santa Margarita Lake: Hiking trail opens to the public

Wilderness enthusiasts get six new trail miles

Path along the north shore of the North County lake wends through rugged canyons, intricate rock forms

May 10, 2008 

The county’s newest hiking and equestrian trail opened Friday along the north shore of Santa Margarita Lake.

County and state officials dedicated the trail in the culmination of a five-year design and construction process.

The six-mile trail wends through rugged canyons and past intricate rock formations.

“The variety of flora you go through is startling in its range,” said Rick Matthews with the county parks department. “All of the plant communities of the North County are represented in pristine condition.”

The county parks department is working out the final details of a schedule to shuttle hikers via pontoon boat from the White Oak Flat day-use area across the lake to the trailhead in the morning, then pick them up at the other end of the trail and ferry them back in the afternoon, said Ken Klis, supervising

ranger at the park.

The idea for the trail originated when the federal Bureau of Land Management offered to sell 1,300 acres north of the lake to the county, as long as the county agreed to build a trail through the land along with a simple campground.

The county contracted with the California Conservation Corps to design and build the trail, said county parks planner Jan Di Leo. The county worked with the corps and adjacent landowner Roy Parsons, who allowed the trail crews to camp on his land and supplied them with firewood, water and snacks.

“Logistically, this trail would never have been built without Roy,” said Philip LaFollette, who headed the corps’ trail-building crews.

Several 15-person crews worked on the trail’s construction. Overall, it took 100 workdays to build.

It was an exceptionally strenuous job, LaFollette said, because the terrain is covered with heavy brush, steep canyons and rock outcroppings. Two corps members had to be airlifted out because of heat exhaustion while working on the trail.

In the end, LaFollette said, it was worth the effort.

“This is a beautiful piece of land,” he said. “People are going to draw a lot of inspiration from it.”

The county parks commission is expected to give the new trail an official name soon.

For more information, call the county parks department at 781-5930.

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