McGrath State Beach in Ventura is having a tough time. Named for theMcGrath family which had extensive coastal land holdings in Ventura dating back to 1874, this beach received enough funding last September to remain open an extra few months while they applied for grants to repair the rusted sewer system in the park.
So, when my friend Rosey and I tried to visit McGrath last October, we were surprised to find they had the gates locked and the closed sign up. We drove a few miles down the road to Ventura State Beach and inquired at the ranger station. It seems that an early rain storm brought floods and broken sewer pipes, damaging the campsite’s facilities, roads and infrastructure.
We decided to drive back and walk into the campgrounds, but parking is not allowed on Harbor Blvd, so we abandoned our autumn excursion.
A few days ago (January 3) we returned. Rosey’s husband Ernie dropped us off at the park entrance and we walked in. We hopped over the tire damaging spikes and strolled down the lane. The plan was to try to find a way to the beach and walk south a few miles. When we were done, we’d phone Ernie to pick us up. We were fully aware though, that the beach may not be accessible, depending on how severe the flooding, and that Ernie may be driving back sooner than he planned.
We only had to walk a few minutes before coming across what one might think, at a glance, was a lovely pond where both local and migrating birds were enjoying this sunny winter day. On closer examination, the picnic tables, trash cans and burn barrels in the middle of the “pond” made it clear that these were normally campsites.
We followed the road as it quickly disappeared into a stream. A sign that pointed to campsites and dump stations was a full fledged river.
After a few minutes we found one road that was open. Hoping it would lead to the beach we followed it, but it merely brought us to an area that held beach vehicles, porta potties and a half dozen housing units for park employees. A sign said “Authorized Personnel Only,” so of course we entered, hoping to attract attention to ourselves and get some information.
After being told we weren’t supposed to be in the park and saying “we know,” and then being told we’d get a ticket for parking out on the street and saying “we were dropped off,” the “authorized personnel” gave up, and told us how to get out of the park and to the beach. We were cautioned to be aware of transient folks living under the bridge, and of two coyotes living in the brush. Coyotes! Hah! One of my favorite creatures. They are seldom a danger to humans, and when I run across them back at home I usually follow them with my camera. But anyway...
There is normally a nature trail with numbered signposts, but it was not accessible today. As we tried to make our way out of the park, we encountered several more flood obstacles, causing us to back track a few times. I found a picnic table that was not underwater and stood on it to get the only available glimpse of McGrath Lake. Even at a distance I could see it was covered with shorebirds.
Eventually we found a sandy trail that followed the lush banks of the Santa Clara River with it’s thick duck blinds and water fowl. But, we could not reach the beach for about a mile until finally the creek narrowed enough to cross. Along the way the dunes were showing signs of springtime life, with early blooms from iceplants and other local wildflowers.
We stopped for a break, sitting on a log and enjoying freshly picked oranges from Rosey’s neighbor’s tree. The beach was completely deserted, with the exception of a young fellow and his bicycle. He also knew how to walk into McGrath and follow the path to the ocean. He carried his bike the mile to the beach. Like us, he did not know where he was headed, nor how far he had to go to get back to the road, but like us, he said he was “on an adventure.”
We walked on the hard, packed sand by the water for awhile. Here and there teepees and other “structures” made from driftwood still stood. Another mile brought us to the Edison Power Plant where... oh dear... we encountered another stream. This time the water was rushing out of the power plant and feeding into the ocean. The current was swift and the water rough. It didn’t seem safe to cross even at the narrowest points. We feared that we would have to turn back. It appeared the power plant had fenced off any further beach access, but we were happy to discover they left a break in the fence for us to continue on.
Our last mile of hiking brought us increasingly closer to civilization where we gradually began seeing other humans and dogs, until we reached Oxnard Beach. I have to say, I hope when I am 76 years old like Rosey, that I will still be able to enjoy a four mile beach walk!
We phoned Ernie. He picked us up and we went to The Lookout Bar at Channel Islands Harbor for Bloody Mary's made with pepper flavored vodka.
The good news: McGrath has been saved for a second time. $500,000 has been raised from public and private sources to fix the flooding situation, including a $250,000 federal grant. This month two projects will begin to remove and replace old sewer lines, pumps and lift stations. It is hoped that the park will be able to re-open by summer, right around the time other parks on the closure list will be putting up their gates.
As much as I enjoy having a beach to myself, I look forward to visiting McGrath State Beach again soon, without being a scofflaw. After all, it's there for all of us to enjoy.
Hope to see you at the parks.