Ojai Valley Guide Summer 2020

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to venture out on more than a day hike, Martinez and Sespe Wilderness Outfitters will help ease the way to the ultimate form of social distancing: an overnight trek into the Sespe Wilderness. As of May, Martinez was still waiting for the U.S. Forest Service to approve a few changes to his application for an outfitter’s permit; coronavirus closures have made Forest Service personnel less available to handle such paperwork, he said. When the company is fully up and running, Sespe Wilderness Outfitters will assist campers on horseback and backpackers of all skill levels. Sespe Wilderness explorers, Martinez said, are not necessarily “hardcore hikers” or riders. Instead, “it’s a big range — anyone who’s up for adventure.” People physically able to hike along the Sespe River Trail, many with a goal of

reaching Willett Hot Springs (9.6 miles from the Piedra Blanca Trailhead at Rose Valley Road) or Sespe Hot Springs (15.2 miles from the trailhead), often “can’t do it with a 50- or 60-pound pack, or don’t want to do it, so they can hire us to carry all their gear,” Martinez said. “Horse campers ride in, but can’t stay overnight because they don’t have the equipment. So we help with the logistics, and carry their equipment and feed.”

“Without them, we wouldn’t have a backcountry system,” Martinez said. Ari Songer, a former program manager for the LPFA, worked with Martinez when he provided pack support for three-day volunteer trips into the Sespe Wilderness to maintain trails.

The Forest Service requires certified weed-free hay for the horses and mules. “There’s not enough in the wilderness to sustain grazing, so we have to bring special hay that doesn’t allow invasive species in,” Martinez said.

She said an operation like Sespe Wilderness Outfitters is “good for recreation in the wilderness. There is definitely a need for a formal presence back there. A lot of people go into the Sespe not knowing what they’re doing or where they’re going. Having someone who is really familiar with the area can make people’s experience more enjoyable, and it’s better for the Sespe.”

Martinez has volunteered for many years with the Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA). He’s a strong advocate for the LPFA, a local nonprofit that supports the forest through trail maintenance and related projects.

Martinez grew up in the Ojai Valley and has lived there his entire life. He first experienced the Sespe Wilderness around the time he got his driver’s license. “A handful of buddies and I were driving all over the place,