Trailforks Trail of the Month: Ken Burton Trail

May 30, 2016
by Mark Holloway  

Ken Burton Trail, Brown Mountain, Los Angeles County, California

Trail of the Month

LA trail ride
Photo by Shanti Colangelo-Curran

For almost 7 years, the Ken Burton trail was closed due to damage sustained by the 2009 Station Fire which devastated the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. The Mount Wilson Bicycle Association (MWBA), the Concerned Off Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA), and the United States Forest Service (USFS) are proud to announce the recent grand reopening of the Ken Burton Trail, May’s Trailforks Trail of the Month.

In 1985, Ken Burton was struck and killed by a drunk driver while on duty as a Battalion Chief for the USFS Fire Department. Will Shaw, a USFS Ranger and good friend of Ken’s, along with the Mount Wilson Bicycle Association (MWBA) proposed a plan to build a multi-use trail in his honor. The proposed route would follow part of a rough trail that Ken and Will frequented on horseback years earlier. In 1991, the USFS granted MWBA permission to build a trail that would connect Brown Mountain Rd to the existing Gabrielino Trail in the Arroyo Seco canyon below.
Ken Burton Battalion Chief with the USFS Fire Department.
Ken Burton, Battalion Chief with the USFS Fire Department.

Over the next 3 years, MWBA volunteers spent countless hours constructing the 2.7 mile trail. The work was not easy, the terrain was rugged and at times the conditions extreme. Areas of strong granite had to be chipped away to build a trail bed. In other places, long stretches of retaining walls were built to create a sustainable path. Original volunteers remember wearing long sleeves and full pants in the heat of the summer so they could cut through poison oak that in places was over their heads. In April of 1995, all of their hard work paid off. The USFS and MWBA officially opened the trail to the public at a ceremony honoring the late Ken Burton.

bigquotesWe had to wear long sleeves and pants to protect us from the poison oak and it was about 102 degrees out. It was especially brutal when we had to climb back out. When we came back about a month later to put the baskets in, even though all the bushes were cut away, there was still poison oak in the dirt and we ending up getting hit by it again.
- Hans Keifer MWBA member and original Ken Burton Trail Builder

Alan Armstrong Chuck Devore Sam Juncal Alan Seims and Reece Vogel installing the Ken Burton under construction sign.
Alan Armstrong, Chuck Devore, Sam Juncal, Alan Seims, and Reece Vogel installing the Ken Burton under construction sign.
The Ken Burton Monument on the dedication day.
The Ken Burton Monument on the dedication day.

The original Ken Burton trail build represents a huge success within a time period generally known for trail closures to mountain bikes in California. MWBA volunteers in the 1990s fostered a positive relationship with local USFS land management built upon cooperation, open minds, and hard work. The countless hours spent on trail work and teaching “trail courtesy” laid the foundation for the widespread trail access enjoyed today by mountain bikers in the Angeles National Forest.

Photo Credit Bill Westphal
2009 Station Fire Photo by Bill Westphal

On August 26, 2009 disaster struck in the Angeles National Forest and no one could predict the devastation that followed. Los Angeles County witnessed the worst wildfire on record, the Station Fire. By the time firefighters extinguished the last of the now famous Station Fire, it had killed 2 firefighters and consumed 160,557 acres (649.75 km2) of land, including a large portion of the Angeles National Forest and home to the Ken Burton Trail. The USFS closed all trails in the burn area until further notice due to safety concerns and to let the forest recover. With all vegetation virtually stripped off the landscape, trails were completely exposed to the forces of nature and the ensuing sediment flows that followed. Little did anyone know the closure of Ken Burton trail would last almost 7 years.

Trail completely overtaken by the overgrowth.
Trail completely overtaken by the overgrowth. Photo by Marc Reusser

BEFORE working on a very narrow trail area. Photo by
BEFORE: working on a very narrow trail area. Photo by Matt Lay, MWBA Trail Boss
AFTER Wider and better supported with a reinforced wall. Photo by
AFTER: Wider and better supported with a reinforced wall. Photo by Matt Lay, MWBA Trail Boss

Photo Credit Erik Hillard
Build days start with a 6-mile grind up Brown Mountain Rd hauling 50lbs of tooling in the BOB Trailers. Photo by Erik Hillard

Fast forward to late 2015. Members of MWBA and CORBA approached the USFS, asking for permission to start the task of resurrecting Ken Burton Trail. A generous grant from REI enabled the connecting portion of the Gabrielino Trail from the bottom of Ken Burton to be restored. Both organizations knew the task ahead of them was not going to be an easy feat. Unlike the original crew that built the trail, the ability to get vehicles with tools close to the work area was out of the question. The once wide fire road had since become an overgrown singletrack. The volunteer crews would have to haul 50 lb. BOB trailers full of tools 6 miles up Brown Mountain Rd. Crews from both associations held bi-weekly trail days and many volunteers showed up for every work day. Their first task was to clear the years of overgrown brush that had completely engulfed the trail. The original trail route was flagged from an old GPS track by Steve Messer, President of CORBA. In some places, Steve literally crawled on his stomach through the heavy brush to mark the trail. A few steep switchbacks on the lower section of Ken Burton were basically non-existent; the landslides that followed the fire literally wiped the trail from the landscape. Crews spent days cutting in the new trail, some sections had to be rerouted as it was just not possible to follow the original route. Surprisingly, the upper section of trail handled the years of closure very well and needed little tread work to get it back into shape. Current members attribute this to the well-designed drainage by the original MWBA builders back in the 90’s.

A very happy day for Steve Messer President of CORBA and all the crew. After almost 7 years of being closed USFS gave Steve and the crew permission to remove the trail closed sign from the entrance to Tim Burton trail.
A very happy day for Steve Messer, President of CORBA and all the crew. After almost 7 years of being closed, USFS gave Steve and the crew permission to remove the trail closed sign from the entrance to Ken Burton trail. Photo by Isaac West

Photo Credit Mark Skovorodko
Ken's brother Tim cuts the ceremonial ribbon to official reopen Ken Burton trail. Photo by Mark Skovorodko
The Burton family at the reopening ceremony. Photo by Mark Skovorodko
The Burton family at the reopening ceremony. Photo by Erik Hillard

The restoration project would take over 6 months to complete. A task that would have never been possible without the help and dedication of the individuals that showed up for each trail day. The final build day was held on April 17th of this year. Crews had a long list of items to complete, but everyone knew that this day was going to be special. When the day was complete the crew was finally able to remove the closed trail sign and ride the complete loop. On May 1st, MWBA held a reopening ceremony and celebration as part of their Pancake Breakfast at Gould Mesa campground. Ken’s brother Tim and the Burton family were on hand, along with hundreds of members of the public to officially reopen the Ken Burton Memorial Trail.

LA trail ride
Photo by Shanti Colangelo-Curran
LA trail ride
Photo by Shanti Colangelo-Curran

Photo Credit John Watson of The Radavist
Photo by John Watson of The Radavist

While doing research for Trail of the Month articles, I continually find myself amazed and inspired by the stories I read of the dedicated men and women who give their free time to the sport we all love. For me, the story behind the Ken Burton trail is one of these stories. I encourage you to support the work these clubs are doing by making a donation through the Trailforks Trail Karma Program. With your help both MWBA and CORBA can continue to repair trails within the Angeles National Forest damaged by the Station Fire.

MENTIONS: @Mount Wilson Bicycle Association / @Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association / @Mark Skovorodko / @The Radavist / @Shanti Photography @shantiphotography / @erikhillard / @markholloway

Are you interested in seeing a trail you manage featured in a upcoming Trail of the Month article?

Author Info:
markholloway avatar

Member since Oct 15, 2011
24 articles

  • 24 1
 Great story--nice how everything has come full circle (cycle), analogies galore about life, death, (re)birth. Fantastic way for friends and family to remember someone important to them. Cheers!
  • 11 1
 These pictures don't capture just how scenic Ken Burton is - from the top, you can see the full scale of the steep granite faces of the San Gabriels, from the sky to the riverbed far below. There's something magical about looking down into the Arroyo and realizing that you'll be all the way down there in a few minutes... a few fantastically fun minutes. KB is a triumph of our local trail groups and certainly some of the finest singletrack in the LA area. Anyone visiting Los Angeles should give it a whirl. #lasucksforcycling
  • 3 0
 There are lots of great photos of the Ken Burton trail views in the photo album by @shantiphotography
  • 2 0
 @erikhillard: Hey, thanks, Erik! Maybe I can use these to tempt some of my less dirt-inclined buddies to make the climb with me next time.
  • 6 1
 FYI, 6 picture from the bottom, the photo where the guy is holding the old sign, the caption reads "Tim Burton" trail vs "Ken Burton".
  • 3 1
 Corrected. Thank-you.
  • 4 0
 Thanks to everyone for your work in resurrecting this trail. Putting smiles on many of our faces after riding that after Kb again. Road it a few weeks ago- to have it back
  • 2 0
 Great to see the trail open again! Looks like you lifted a photo from my blog though...
Photo credit to Marc reusser @

Thanks to Erik and they guys mwba for all the work!
  • 3 0
 Hey David! Thanks for the that link to Marc's original photo. Mark had that one on file showing the overgrowth and I was unsure of its origin. I will definitely ask for photo credit to be added for Marc.
  • 4 0
 @dfishdesign I actually "lifted" the photo from CORBA's site. I was not able to find anyone that knew who to give credit to..
I have update the article to give photo credit to Marc Reusser
  • 2 0
 Stoked to contribute to all the hard work MWBA put in. I don't live in Southern California anymore so getting out to actually dig wasn't really an option for me. I'm happy to be able to add some photo's to all the hard work! Great riding trail! More photo's here:
  • 3 1
 I think it's fantastic that there are volunteer groups out there, working to restore and maintain some awesome trails.

At the same time, I think it's downright sad that the federal govt cannot do this work themselves (with our tax dollars), AND that it took them 7 years just to give a volunteer group the permission to take this big project on for them.

At the end of the day, we have a trail Re-opened and a good PR story for all involved. It shouldn't have taken 7 years though.
  • 2 0
 Definitely a must do if your in the L.A/ Pasadena area. Now if your feeling adventurous and a little ballsy do this trail at night, turn off your bike lights so you can check out the stars above with a couple of cold brews before you drop into the canyon below.
  • 2 0
 Good to know the history of some trails. I rode it once a month ago, not realy technical, but some switchback just too narrow and steep, gotta walk some. I like the bottom part by the river bed. Good job by the trail crew.
  • 5 0
 The switchbacks are tight and steep for sure! Some skilled riders can clear all the switchbacks and others like myself are still learning to master them. One day I know I'll make it to the bottom without putting a foot down!
  • 4 0
 Keep an eye out for the right lines. I've ride this trail and have cleared every switchback. It just takes the right setup and skill. But take it easy and know your skillset. Some of those switchback's expose dousn't leave much room for error... like most of the trails around Mt. Lowe and Mt Wilson!
I really like to shuttle the Front Side and the Dark Side around here, but it is a fun option other then going back down Brown Mountain to El Prieto (the local favorite).
Love the work CORBA and MWBA.
Couldn't be be better time to ride in L.A.
  • 3 0
 Lived in Pasadena for a while, I remember that this trail was closed. Thanks to all volunteers worker, it's great to have more trails in this area !
  • 2 0
 Huge thanks to all the hard work folks put in to make this possible. And it's such a refreshing story to hear about groups of people working together to open or reopen trails to mountain bikers.
  • 4 0
 Great story, awesome trail , my back yard luck me
  • 3 0
 locals rule, awesome to see the hard work of dedicated crews Thanks to everyone involved Old School and the New School
  • 2 0
 Truly worthy of TOM, if for no other reason than the back story of what it took to open initially, then reopen after the devastating fires. Heroic work by all involved.
  • 2 0
 The Ken Burton Trail is definitely a must ride if you're in the LA area. Thanks to all the local groups who got it up and running again!
  • 3 0
 Steve is truly an inspiration!!!! Love you brother!!!
  • 2 0
 I spent a few workdays on this trail back in the mid 90's (now living in NorCal). Great to see it reopen.
  • 1 0
 this is so inspiring, makes me want to go to my local trail and work more on it. Congratulations to everyone involved and thank you PB for this article.
  • 2 0
 I'd love to be remember with a trail.
  • 2 0
 outstanding !, congratulations to Steve & CORBA volunteers
  • 2 0
 on my to do list very soon!
  • 2 0
 Keep these pieces coming PB!

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