New Landowner in Matilija Canyon Causes Trail Access Concern (Updated)

UPDATE (1:30 PM, August 2, 2017): We have received a response from the landowner assuring that access to the trail will be uninhibited. He will be seeking a permit through the Forest Service for an automatic gate to which the Forest Service and other agencies will have access, and hikers will continue to have access to the public easement around the gate. We appreciate the landowner’s willingness to work with us to keep the trail open, and we will continue to ensure that public lands in Matilija Canyon remain accessible. Read his full response here.

The posts were placed in the road itself, causing a violation notice to be issued by Ventura County. Photo by Luke Williams

In early July, ForestWatch received an anonymous tip that the new owner of the Dent House property at the end of Matilija Canyon Road was constructing a new gate across the road and notifying hikers that they were trespassing along the public access easement.

The property, which was reportedly purchased by Ojai resident and B&B owner Calvin Zara, encompasses several acres along either side of Matilija Canyon Road. For decades, the general public has enjoyed a right-of-way access easement across this property granted to the Forest Service in 1933. Those on foot and horse have been able to travel along the road through the property to access North Fork Matilija Creek Trail and other areas in the Los Padres National Forest.

As the property was changing hands this month, the new owner began constructing a gate across Matilija Canyon Road just east of their property line, on what appears to be national forest land. This gate would block the existing Forest Service gate there. The Ventura County Public Works Agency promptly issued an encroachment notice to Mr. Zara, as the posts were installed in the pavement in the actual road right-of-way. The new property owner will likely have to remove the posts and fix the damage to the road.

We have also received reports that the owner is warning hikers legally passing through the property that they are trespassing. Our attorneys have drafted a letter to the owner informing them of the existing easement and ordering them to cease and desist all attempts to restrict access through the property.

This development comes nearly a year after we settled a lawsuit against another Matilija Canyon landowner who had been restricting access to nearby Matilija Falls after the public had enjoyed access along a trail for more than a century. Our lawsuit resulted in a permanent trail easement to the falls and the trail is currently being re-established there.

We will continue to fight this and other attempts to restrict the public’s access to areas in the Los Padres National Forest. Check back to our website for new postings about this issue or sign up for our mailing list to get monthly updates.

Response from the landowner of the Dent House (dated August 2, 2017):

I’m the new owner of the Dent House property at the end of Matilija Canyon Road and am writing to clarify parts of your recent story about the property. Most importantly, please be assured that I absolutely support and respect the public access easement through my property to access the public hiking trails. In the short time I’ve owned the property, I’ve greeted many hikers passing on the easement road, and they enhance my enjoyment of the property. In a few isolated instances hikers have strayed off the easement road towards my house and animals, and I have politely asked them to only use the easement road to cross the property. I have never suggested to anyone that they aren’t welcome to use the easement road.

For the convenience of the residents beyond Matilija Canyon Road and after any necessary approvals are obtained, there may be an automatic gate installed in lieu of the existing manual gate at the end of Matilija Canyon Road. However, just like the existing gate, any new gate would only restrict vehicular traffic not pedestrian traffic so hikers would have the same unimpeded access they now have to the trails. Of course, all authorized agencies (e.g. Forest Service, Sheriff, Fish and Game) will have the new gate code for access just as they have the existing gate code.

I’m happy that the Dent House property serves as the gateway to the North Fork Matilija Creek trail and fully encourage and support the public’s access to it via the easement road through my property. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any further questions or concerns.

All the best,

Calvin Zara

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