Coast Conscious


For members of Coastwalk, time is something other people worry about.

On the beach, with the wind at their back, the sand at their feet and miles of breakers stretching along the shore, the rest of the world is free to breeze by.

“You amble and you talk, and then you stop to look at something,” said Mary Jane Dean, who came down from Northern California to walk nearly every mile of Ventura County’s coast for the utopian dream of bringing the shoreline back to the people. “And then you amble and you talk again.”

Speed is not part of Coastwalk’s mission. Since 1983, the Sonoma County-based nonprofit group has organized beach walks to campaign for a trail along all 1,702 miles of California’s coast.


This week, the group is traversing Ventura County’s 41 miles of beach.

Members of the group--who range in age from 10 to a sturdy 79--started Sunday night at Carpinteria State Beach at the Santa Barbara County line and are due to finish Saturday at Leo Carrillo State Beach at the Los Angeles County line. In between, they’ll take some detours by van and one by boat, and make at least one stop for ice cream.

The two dozen walkers average about six miles a day on strolls punctuated by frequent stops: to dip a toe in the water, to watch a group of harbor seals or a pod of dolphins, or to scribble notes on a bird sighting.

Many of the participants have done this before, on one of 14 other county Coastwalks. As such, there’s something of a Coastwalk community here, friends who run into each other from county to county.


Evelyn Clark, 79, a 10-time veteran of the walks, has the names of her previous counties marked on her walking stick, and a day pack stitched with patches from around the world.

“I have to be in pretty good shape,” said Clark, who’s still known to pull out her surfboard when she’s back in Orange County. “The rocks at Rincon were pretty rough to get over, but I try to walk most of the way.”

The walks are meant to draw attention to the miles of shoreline in private hands, kept behind fences or hemmed into gated communities. They will walk past the best and worst of Ventura County: shifting dunes and miles of ocean, oil pumps and riprap.

The trips are an attempt to publicize their ideals, their dreams of a California shoreline trail. And though it hasn’t happened yet, they still hope.

“We wanted to preserve the land for people,” said Richard Fogel, a San Mateo County resident and 10-year Coastwalker with a mountain-man beard. “We can’t make it happen, but we can come out with our walking sticks.”

By some camping standards, the walkers are pampered: a volunteer cooks their dinner, and they are followed by an RV packed with their camping gear and available as an occasional shuttle for those who need a breather.

But at $39 a day for lodging and meals, the trip offers an experience that even the most exclusive resorts don’t offer.

“I used to want all the hotels and Jacuzzis,” said Ruth Motley, 75, of Anaheim, who was convinced by friend Clark to take her first trip. “But, I was getting bored with it.”


Naturally, nature is close at hand--sometimes too close.

The winds can rattle tents, and rain makes for tough walking on soggy beaches. On a trip along the Del Norte County coast, an elk tried to nose his way into Los Angeles-native Annie Salerno’s tent. On Catalina Island, a bison tried to knock over her tent.

But most of the contact is human.

Sometimes, participants play practical jokes on each other. Often, they share songs. In Ventura County, they’ll hear tales of the Chumash.

“Everyone has a story,” said John Walsh, a Sacramento-area teacher on his first Coastwalk trip with his 10-year-old daughter. “I was walking along with an 80-year-old who’s had every experience you could. She’s surfed with her kids, she’s biked 200 miles, she’s rafted the Grand Canyon.”

And she’s walked most of the California coast.

It’s impossible to walk the entire length. The walkers try to get permission to cross private land, but busy roads, private golf courses and houses that push right up to the sea often force them into an inland obstacle course.

Those detours, of course, sadden Coastwalkers.


“There’s a lot of land inland,” Fogel said. “There’s only one coast.”