Diehard Los Angeles hikers have a lot to look forward to now that a long path through the Santa Monica Mountains, in the works for decades, is finally approaching completion. The Backbone Trail will officially be finished June 4, and will extend from Will Rogers State Park all the way to Point Mugu in Malibu. That’s a distance of 67 miles—making it one of the longest continuous trails in Southern California.
Building such an extensive trail that cuts through some of the most prime real estate in the country has been no easy task. According to the LA Times, work began on the Backbone Trail in the 1960s, when the National Park Service, California Department of Parks and Recreation, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority began buying parcels of land in order to construct the route. All told, 180 tracts have been purchased since then, including many areas around the trail to prevent future development from blocking views or disrupting the natural beauty of the surroundings. “Development destroys views, and an unobstructed viewshed is important to us,” Szymanski tells the Times.
Most recently, the National Park Service tried to purchase 40 acres of property from Arnold Schwarzenegger and fitness guru Betty Weider. Conveniently, both agreed to donate the land instead. They aren’t the only celebrities who have parted with pieces of land that have been added to the trail; James Cameron sold a massive 703-acre tract in 2014 for $12 million. All of these parcels have now been patched together to create an uninterrupted trail that hikers will be able to (legally) travel for the first time in more than a half century.
The park service is now trying to get the Backbone Trail designated as a National Recreation Trail. This will give it a little bit of extra prestige, in addition to increased funding for maintenance and the purchase of more land. Joe Edmiston, director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, tells the Times he’s hoping that the trail will someday extend all the way to Griffith Park. If the history of the trail as it exists today is any indication, that’s a long way off, but hikers certainly can’t be blamed for dreaming of that glorious day.