The Rockstars of the Emma Wood Beach Pathway

“It all started as a way to protect the dunes.”

by Jill Forman

Look at this wonderful rock pathway!” A group of us were at Emma Wood State Beach, walking towards the river mouth. We found ourselves on a cleared path with rock borders. Also rock piles, happy faces, and groupings of reddish rocks; an easy route through the dune area while staying off the dunes themselves. A group of plant lovers, we were impressed.

Who,” we all wondered, “could have done this?”

A little later, we ran into two women with dogs and buckets and tools. They had heard us talking, and were delighted to announce, “It was us! We built the whole thing. Took us five years of coming down every day.”

Dorene and Janet, a retired teacher and nurse, live in Ventura. They loved walking along the beach to the river mouth, and hanging out there as the tide came in. They found that it was more difficult to get back to the parking area at high tide without tramping over the dunes, so they made a path. “It all started as a way to protect the dunes.”

In the summer of 2012, they put down a single line of rocks to mark the route, then they cleared the path and moved the rocks to each side. After that, they made the ocean side higher for high tides. About 3-4 years ago there was a storm surge with flooding, and they had to relocate parts of it and move it about 20 feet back. “It feels like we’ve moved a million rocks.”

Once they had the path established, they still need to come down daily for maintenance. They remove invasive ice plant, take out garbage bags full of trash.

They call the beach “our gym,” also “our gem;” they have lost weight, developed muscles, and even lowered their cholesterol. Their energy goes into helping themselves “and doing something for the earth every day.” They tell me you can see the path on Google Earth.

The garbage they pick up has been “…everything you can think of.” Especially clothing items: their most bizarre finds have been a plastic breast and a set of upper dentures. After the Montecito flood, they found many shoes on the beach “…expensive shoes, single shoes, little kids’ shoes. Made us cry.”

Piles of rocks on the sensitive dune habitats have been demolished; “…the biggest one took us 11 days.” They have gone through 14 pairs of heavy leather gloves, and uncounted garbage bags, all of which they bought with their own money.

People ask us: what organization are you with, who is helping you. Nobody; we have done it all ourselves.” They meet people from all over the world. “People feel safe because it is clean and open.” They took Dorene’s 94 year old mother to the beach and she was able to walk the whole path.

They have a joke that they are DJ’s: “Dj’s play rock and roll, Dorene and Janet rock and roll.” They can’t lift most of the rocks, so they roll them.

They also joke about their Art in the Park. Remembering a smiley face in the Simi hills, they added some humor with rock smiley faces, a granite monument, and funny faces and decorations on the piles of rocks at the ends of the trail.

Talking to them, what comes across most is the joy they feel at the beach, working on their path and helping their community and environment. “It doesn’t feel like work to go down there…quiet, peaceful, like meditation…we feel rejuvenated….look forward to it every day…we plan on continuing as long as we can walk.”

It’s been a wonderful experience.”

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