Former Reagan Ranch Tabbed for Horse Campground
It's an equestrian's conundrum: There are nearly 10,000 horses residing around southern California's Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, which provides 359 miles of horse-riding trails on about 153,000 acres of public park land, but there's no easy place to camp with one's horse after a long and dusty day's ride, according to the Malibu Times.
"In Point Mugu, you can pay a ranger to escort a group down to a campground, (where) there's a couple of corrals," Agoura resident and avid equestrian Ruth Gerson said. "But everyone has to be escorted at the same time, you have to pay additional camping fees. I don't call that public access."
Gerson and her colleagues in Equestrian Trails Inc. Corral 63 (ETI) have been nagging the California State Parks department for years to create an easily accessible site where campers and their horses can sleep under the stars and dream about the morning's trail ride.
"I've been actively working on this for 30 years," Gerson said. "It was always put at the bottom of the list, or there would be problems with the location and it was knocked down by the state parks."
After a spate of false starts, the riders and the rangers have finally agreed on the perfect spot for a first-rate equestrian campground: the site of the old Ronald Reagan ranch in Malibu Creek State Park.
Set on seven acres in a flat, grassland meadow at the junction of Mulholland Highway and Cornell Road, the proposed Ronald Reagan Equestrian Campground (RREC) will feature 30 campsites, with two corrals at each site and access to 500 miles of public trails.
The design plan calls for native trees to be planted to shade the grounds, as well as provisions for truck and horse trailer parking, manure disposal areas, toilets and showers with adjacent hitching rails, a group gathering area with a fire ring, and other facilities to accommodate the park's much-underserved equestrian visitors. The grounds will also serve as a fire-safe zone for horses in the event of a major wildfire.
But now, the only problem is: where to get the $1.5 million needed to build it?
The parks department, already in danger of shutdowns due to the state's woeful economic health, won't be ponying up any money needed to shepherd the project through planning, environmental review, construction and operation.
"We might in the future. But right now there's just no funding for it," Ron Schafer, superintendent of the state parks' Angeles District, said.
For now, the parks department has partnered with ETI in its fundraising efforts, starting with next week's kick-off fundraiser.
Plans for the proposed campgrounds will be presented Sept. 26 at the Mill Creek Equestrian Center in Topanga and Schafer is among the guest speakers, who also include Woody Smeck, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area; Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy; and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
The event will begin with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by a dressage demonstration at 6:30 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. A donation of $60 per person is requested.
Cory Walkey, owner of Mill Creek Equestrian Center, was a regular rider with the Reagans and recalls the pleasure President Reagan found in horses and riding. "He was an accomplished horseman and often reiterated Winston Churchill's comment that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man," Walkey said.
Reagan, who was known to share jellybeans with his beloved horses straight from his hand, owned the land from 1957 to 1967, prior to being elected governor of California. It was his first ranch property and it still retains the original barn, stables and some of the steeple jumps.
Gerson, described by some as the tireless chair of the RREC committee, said she is counting on private donors and federal grants to make the equestrian campground a reality. She estimates it will take two to four years before the campground is ready for visitors.
"I need a couple years just to raise the money," Gerson said. "Unless I find a sugar daddy!"