PICTURED: Los Padres National Forest

by Tom Weisel

Exploring public lands and rivers surrounding Ventura helps fuel me through the work week. This has been especially true over the last year. Although we’ve had to spend more time indoors and close to home, Ventura residents are fortunate to have trails and open space nearby. 

During the pandemic, when it’s been safe to do so, I’ve led trips with a local Boy Scout troop in the Los Padres National Forest. Here, the kids can remain safely distanced from each other while they play, hike and savor time outdoors. Seeing their excitement while they scramble to the top of a mountain, or discover something new about the natural world, shows me how important these trips are for their physical and mental health in these challenging times — and for mine, too.

I’m grateful that our leaders are working to protect the Los Padres, so that future generations also can have these experiences. Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Central Coast Heritage Protection Act (H.R. 2199), authored by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara). The bill will permanently safeguard more than 300,000 acres of public lands and 159 miles of rivers in the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument. This bill passed the House in a bipartisan package of legislation that will protect more than one million acres of public lands and over 500 miles of rivers throughout California. I was encouraged to read that Sen. Alex Padilla plans to introduce complementary legislation (“California Sen. Alex Padilla backs sweeping US wilderness bill as House authors wait for Senate opening,” by Andrew Graham, The Press Democrat, March 19, 2021), and I’m eager for Senators Padilla and Feinstein to push for passage in the Senate.

For over a year, our worlds have been consumed by Zoom meetings and virtual gatherings with loved ones. Spending time in nature is one of the few ways we can safely get together and feel a sense of community. Recently our Boy Scout Troop hiked 19 miles through Rose Valley in the Los Padres. Despite the grueling hike, the kids were eager to make the day last longer by playing in a stream or pausing to appreciate the wildflowers. 

One of the many benefits of Carbajal’s bill is that it will increase recreation opportunities. The designation of the Condor National Scenic Trail, for example, will connect the northern and southern portions of the Los Padres by a single hiking route. This means we’ll have more ways to connect with friends and family in nature — something that many of us (but kids in particular) crave more than ever.

On each trip to the national forest, the kids deepen their unique connections to these lands and rivers. One of our most memorable hikes was on Pine Mountain in Los Padres’ Sespe Wilderness. Pine Mountain is popular with locals and visitors alike, and yet its future isn’t guaranteed. Just last year the U.S. Forest Service threatened to log old-growth forests and clear chaparral along Pine Mountain (“Forest Service to Expedite Logging and Habitat Clearance in Proposed Wilderness on Pine Mountain,” by Bryant Baker, Los Padres ForestWatch, June 9, 2020), which would permanently alter this beautiful area and take away beloved places to hike and climb. The Central Coast Heritage Protection Act would prevent future logging around Pine Mountain and throughout the Los Padres. We must permanently safeguard more of the Los Padres National Forest so that today’s kids, as well as their kids, can continue experiencing the best of our region.  

Rep. Carbajal is a champion for our public lands and rivers, and his leadership has brought critical protections for our region one step closer to reality. I hope to see Senators Padilla and Feinstein help carry this bill over the finish line this year. 

All of us — kids and adults — yearn for nature more than ever. Let’s make sure places like the Los Padres remain wild, so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of our forests, grasslands and rivers long into the future.

Tom Weisel owns Arch Day Design, a medical device design company. He lives in Ventura.