On August 31, a peaceful protest was held in front of Vieja Valley Elementary School. The protest was held due to the fencing off of the 70 year old Laguna Blanca horse trail with no public warning by property owners and the Hope Ranch Board. Held after school ended for the students of Vieja Valley, the protest included parents, 40 teens, Hope Ranch residents, and others affected by the trail blocking. Signs were placed on the front lawn of the school and protesters picketed until a meeting was held in the school cafeteria. The meeting was led by Ranch officials, who responded to resident’s feelings and concerns.
“The trails need to be preserved in Hope Ranch,” said Judy Whiting, the granddaughter of Harold Chase, founder of Hope Ranch. “We don’t want to see this trail shut down, and it’s not safe to go on Estrella Drive.”
Ms. Whiting has taught numerous equestrians and has been riding on the trail since 1952.
The Laguna Blanca Trail was opened in 1947 for a safer walking and riding experience. Many Hope Ranch residents and Laguna Blanca School students used the trail for exercise and a way to get safely home from school for close to 70 years without any complaints from previous homeowners on the property. Fencing off the trail forces the equestrians and students to travel on the cliff of Estrella Drive.
“I grew up riding that trail in the late 50’s and 60’s, and it’s one of the major ways for equestrians to get from the far end of Hope Ranch to the other end of Hope Ranch without having to go around by the Hope Ranch beach,” explained Dale Hoeffliger, horse riding instructor at Hope House. “We have never ridden along the street ever because it was always deemed as way too dangerous.”
Dale was born and raised in Hope Ranch and is an active user of the trail.
In 1947, a document was written explaining that the horse trail was moved up, off of the homeowner’s property causing an easement. The easement, or right to cross on property, was never a problem until a Hope Ranch Board meeting declared it an issue. The homeowners argue that the trail is their property and that it is not in the hands of Hope Ranch to take that land away, but the document states that property owners must be living on the property for five years until they have the right to refuse the easement.
“The trail has has been really helpful for school because it leads right to my friend’s house so after school we walk there,” said Laguna Blanca student Claire Hilus. “I think that we should try to preserve as much nature as possible.”
Claire had come to the protest because of the impact the blocked off trail was having on her and the needs of her fellow classmates.
“I’ve ridden my horses on the trails,” said 9 year Hope Ranch resident Alex Bidwell. “We really want to preserve the uniqueness of the Hope Ranch community because it’s been around since the 20’s and everyone moved here for a certain reason.”
The Hope Ranch Board will be holding a meeting to go over the final decision about closing the trail on September 19 and a representative from the protest will be there to express the feelings of the other Hope Ranch residents and Laguna Blanca Students. The trail will remain closed off until the final meeting. Until then, residents will continue to walk and ride on Estrella Drive.