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Little-known trail gets makeover, opens window to the past


Published: May 21, 2010

THE REHABILITATION of a relatively obscure hiking trail in Big Sur not only provides access to two ideal summertime backpacking destinations, but it also offers a fascinating glimpse of how Native Americans and homesteading pioneers survived in a rugged and unforgiving wilderness.

The Turner Creek Trail — overgrown and obscured by fallen trees — is now accessible thanks to the Ventana Wilderness Alliance and a $8,500 grant from the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District.

To reach the trailhead, you will first need to drive to Bottchers Gap, which is located at the end of Palo Colorado Road. Just to the left of a parking area at Bottchers Gap is the well marked start of the steep and brushy Skinner Ridge Trail. The route zig-zags up and down the 3,300-foot ridge for about 2.4 miles before reaching the turnoff for the Turner Creek Trail.

For the next 1.5 miles, the trail follows Turner Creek as it gently winds its way downhill. Along the way, you’ll pass stands of mature black oaks and madrones, as well as lush and inviting meadows. Less than a half-mile from the start of the trail lies Apple Tree Camp, which sadly no longer features the tree that inspired its name. About a mile further along the trail is another desirable backpacking destination, Turner Creek Camp. The two camps — shaded by hardwood trees — offer a cool respite from much of surrounding landscape, which swelters in the summer.

The signs of human inhabitation along Turner Creek are subtle. An occasional fence post is evidence that someone once raised livestock in the canyon, although frequent wildfires have destroyed most of what the pioneers left behind. The fact that fruit trees were planted along the creek is further proof that someone tried to establish a homestead there.

Evidence that Native Americans once lived along the creek is even more difficult to detect since Big Sur’s original human inhabitants left behind little besides bedrock mortars, grinding stones, shell mounds and an occasional crudely fashioned tool. But there is no doubt that the upper portion of the Turner Creek watershed was a place where they migrated in the fall to gather acorns from black oaks, which seem to thrive there. Acorns were an essential part of the primitive Native American diet, and those from black oaks were considered the most desirable.

The VWA — which has completed many local trail rehabilitation projects — decided the trail was worth saving. They asked the MPRPD, which gets its money from taxpayers, to fund for the trail work. The MPRPD approved the proposal and a work crew was hired. VWA volunteers also helped to clear the trail.

“The crew removed tremendous amounts of poison oak which encroached on the trail,” explained Richard Popchak, secretary for the VWA. “Also, many fallen trees were removed from the trail. Though a few still remain, the trail is greatly improved from its poor condition just one month ago.”

Tim Jensen, project and conservation manager for the MPRPD, called the trail work “a very fundable project within our district that improves public access to public property.”

Chris Lorenc, a member of the VWA who has lived nearby for 12 years, is grateful the trail has been rehabilitated. An avid hiker, he has frequently explored the area.

“I’m always struck by the light in the canyon,” Lorenc said. “The trail rolls past beautiful alders, sycamores and madrones. It’s not a steep or rugged hike. It’s a very contemplative and calming to walk there.”