Outdoor Observer

Outdoor Observer


Guided kayaking tours highlighting the natural wonders of Channel Islands National Park immerse visitors in the islands’ fantastic natural splendor, and allow them to safely sample the exciting sport. I recently explored Santa Cruz Island’s rugged coastline with a company called Aquasports, one of only a few allowed by the National Park Service to offer commercial tours.

Lead guide Andy Babcock provided a basic course on safely maneuvering the tiny vessels, and assured novice kayakers that he’d be close by to help in case of any trouble. Aquasports equipped us with all the necessary gear, including life vests and paddle jackets to help keep us warm. Helmets allow safe exploration of caves so paddlers can venture into the dark interior of the ancient islands, and observe marine creatures living inside.

He explained the island’s long geologic history while floating near rocks shaped by waves, wind and volcanic activity. We passed near a powerful blowhole spraying water from a crevice in the island. We saw colorful starfish and other ocean life clinging to offshore rocks. Babcock also taught us about the island’s rich cultural history, including thousands of years of Native American habitation and the colorful ranching era.

Aquasports owner Eric Little says island kayaking is a resource that’s overlooked and underappreciated by Ventura County residents who’ve never tried it. “People are flabbergasted because it’s as beautiful as any paddling anywhere in the world,” says Little. “People tell me all the time, ‘I’ve lived here all my life and have never been out there,’ and my response to that is, well let’s go!”

Aquasports offers day trips and multiday adventures where the ocean voyage is set up with Island Packers Cruises and camping reservations. It also serves customers who arrange travel and camping on their own.

Trips to Anacapa and Santa Barbara Islands as well as the mainland coast are also offered, but Scorpion Bay on Santa Cruz has certain advantages over other destinations. The campground near Scorpion Ranch is more sheltered than those on other islands, and offers shade from tall and historic eucalyptus trees. Fresh water is also available from a well, unlike some other islands where visitors must carry all they’ll need. It also features varied hiking trails and endemic plant and wildlife species, including tiny Santa Cruz Island foxes and bright-blue island scrub jays.

Little says all the Channel Islands have unique charms, but Santa Cruz is the most popular destination. “It’s the most protected paddling of all the islands,” says Little. “Anacapa has just as beautiful sea caves as Santa Cruz, but not quite as many and not as accessible on a day trip. Camping on Santa Cruz is unmatched anywhere in Channel Islands National Park. And the outer islands, Santa Rosa and San Miguel, are really windy.”

Little says it’s magical to view wild ocean creatures in their natural habitat in the close and personal way only a kayak can offer.

“When people go to the zoo, they have all the exhibits, but you can never actually get into them. You’re kind of on the outside with a barrier between you. Well, there’s no barrier out at the Channel Islands, so you’re right in it. And if you want to reach out and touch a starfish you can do that,” says Little. “If you have a group of sea lions that are herding fish into a sea cave in order to trap them and eat them, they’ll be underneath your kayak, and you can see them because the water’s clear.”

Outdoor Observer

Outdoor Observer


New sand dunes have been created near Ventura’s popular Surfers Point to help prevent beach erosion and provide wildlife habitat, but it’s going to take some ongoing cooperation from visitors to make the project a success.

I joined a crew of more than 70 volunteers to comb extraneous debris from the dunes, and begin the process of planting native vegetation that will help keep them from blowing away and covering a recently built bike path and parking lot with sand.

The sand was relocated from Ventura’s Pierpont Beach, where excessive windblown accumulations damaged private property and posed safety issues for people using stairs to access the shoreline. For some reason, it contained foreign objects, including chunks of concrete and litter.

Volunteers using rakes, shovels and hands filled dozens of buckets. I found some large jagged shards of broken glass that could have potentially cut somebody’s foot if they had later been exposed by the wind.

The dunes are just one aspect of the multimillion-dollar Surfers’ Point Managed Shoreline Retreat Project that’s been under way for years, and is a partnership between numerous groups, including city leaders, Ventura County Fairgrounds officials and the Surfrider Foundation. It needed to be done because a bike path installed during 1989 that was closer to the ocean than the new one was quickly damaged by ocean storms.

Ventura Surfrider Foundation Campaign Coordinator Paul Jenkin says dunes play several important roles and have unfortunately been disappearing across the state for years. “Coastal dune areas like this are an important part of the natural coastal ecosystem. Birds and other critters live in there. But I think, more importantly, the dunes provide a buffer to erosion events,” Jenkin said.

“The whole point of this project originally was to provide an alternative to hard coastal structures in response to coastal erosion. We’ve done that by retreating, but then restoring this native dune field,” Jenkin said. “These dunes will prevent waves from washing over the parking lot and provide a sand supply during those big events. That sand will then get out on the beach and nourish the beach, too.”

Everyone visiting that area of the beach is asked to avoid playing on the new dunes or stepping on the plants. Straw has also been spread around to help keep the sand and native plants in place.

Some of the plants were first nurtured in volunteers’ backyards. More plants should soon pop up because a native seed mix was sprinkled on the dunes.

“Those seeds will sprout this spring and provide natural stabilization for the dunes so the sand doesn’t just blow away. And then we also have some plants that people have been growing from seed starting last spring, and they’ve been kind of plant parents over the summer,” Jenkin said.

Future work days are anticipated by leaders of the Surfrider Foundation and a city-led effort called Volunteer Ventura!

“There’s going to need to be a long-term maintenance program to continue to weed out the nonnatives and help the native plants along. So we’ll probably do some more weeding events into the springtime when things really start to sprout, and hopefully steward this into the future,” says Jenkin.

Volunteer Krishna Juarez of Ventura thought it was a fun event, though it took considerable effort to sift through the dunes. “I think it’s great. It’s important to have this kind of resource so close to the city where people can enjoy it,” said Juarez. “It’s good for the animals, and it’s good for us, too.”  

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