PCT alignment through Tejon Ranch a big step closer

The Pacific Crest Trail took an important and much-anticipated step this week toward the original 1930’s grand vision of a footpath that follows the mountain crest of Pacific states.

The Tejon Ranch Conservancy received the final paperwork on a long-negotiated 10,000-acre conservation easement from the Tejon Ranch Company protecting the views from a proposed new section of the trail in Southern California.

This legal agreement is the first tangible act in relocating 38 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the Tehachapi Mountain crest as was first imagined. The easement also protects in perpetuity the sweeping views from this new section of trail that hikers and horseback riders have come to expect on this National Scenic Trail because the agreement limits the construction of new roads and buildings in this breathtaking landscape.

The PCT realignment will take hikers into the Tehachapi Mountain high country on Tejon Ranch. [Photo: Tejon Ranch Conservancy]

The PCT realignment will take hikers into the Tehachapi Mountain high country on Tejon Ranch. [Photo: Tejon Ranch Conservancy]

At the time the 2,650-mile trail was originally proposed, it was to traverse the highest points along the West Coast’s mountainous spine between Mexico and Canada. But an easement to construct the PCT through Tejon Ranch was unavailable, so the trail was instead routed through the Mojave Desert and along the California Aqueduct. This is a far more industrial path than was originally intended and today it’s regarded as one of the least appealing sections of the PCT.

“Realigning the Pacific Crest Trail through the Tejon Ranch will give hikers and riders a tremendously enhanced trail experience; Tejon Ranch sits at a unique place that melds four ecological regions of California,” said Tom Maloney, executive director of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy. “Providing access to Tejon Ranch is a core part of our mission and establishing the trail is a top priority for the Conservancy.”

“For more than a decade now we’ve been working toward relocating the Pacific Crest Trail to where it belongs – the mountain ranges of Tejon Ranch – and dedicating this easement represents a significant step forward,” said Tejon Ranch Co. President and CEO Gregory S. Bielli. “It’s a promise we made when we announced the historic Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement, and it’s a promise we’ve kept.”

This conservation easement is the first of several steps to move the trail onto Tejon Ranch. Because the new trail will wind through condor habitat and land protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service – in cooperation with the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy – will next need to get agency permits to build the trail. So actual construction and relocation is still years away.

“Today we have hikers walking along dirt roads through the Mojave Desert,” said Liz Bergeron, executive director and CEO of the Pacific Crest Trail Association. “Moving the trail to the crest, where it belongs, will better serve future generations of hikers and horseback riders. This new section will traverse a quintessential California landscape, one befitting a National Scenic Trail such as the PCT.”

For the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, this brings their easement holdings to more than 100,000 acres on Tejon Ranch. “For a land trust to acquire over 100,000 acres of conservation easements in five years is an extraordinary accomplishment that the Conservancy is very proud of,” said Maloney. “This remarkable landscape will be protected for future generations of Californians to explore.”

This map shows the existing trail through the Mojave and the new proposed route across the crest of the Tehachapi Mountains. View Side by Side PCT in a larger map.

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Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.