Riding season open at Montana De Oro

Sharron Thompson takes Kona for a ride near Spooners Cove in Montana de Oro State Park. (Photos by CamasFrank)

LOS OSOS — Various trip planning websites habitually urge lovers of the great outdoors and riders who want to experience them with equine companions to book a reservation early for sites in California State Parks.  While multi-day camping can be booked for $25 a night, the reservations become mandatory in the Central Coast’s Montana de Oro campgrounds starting in the theoretical busy season of mid-May.

The camp hosts who live on site, however, report that California’s Super Bloom in the high country has already let the secret out about spring’s arrival in the State and their busy season has started already. Reservations are now a must for tent and trailer campers, who include those traveling cross country as well as groups taking an evening away from nearby California  Polytechnic University, but that’s nothing new for horse lovers who’ve nearly always had to book their stays in advance.

Folks like Atascadero resident Dee Hazelton, who has volunteered her time with the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Posse for more than 20 years, have found ways to visit the beautiful oceanside park often through the years with group trips. Hazelton’s group had a three-day reservation at the ‘Oak’ Equine Campground off of Hazard Canyon Road April in mid-April, coincidentally coinciding with the Park’s volunteer project work day for Earth Day.

While Rangers focused on improvements for visitors along frequently used mountain bike trails and the level bluffs where visitors have even been known to take a stroller, the horse sites — Lupine, Sage, Chamise, Manzanita, Oak. and Madrone — benefited from a water system upgrade last year with a cistern, piping and troughs. The aqua is still nonpotable to humans though, however, a barbecue pit and toilets have been installed as a concession to the human guests.

“I think this is just the best site ever,” Hazelton said referring to the suite of facilities, and noting that their group was saddened to see a reservation go unused at the Madrone site, noting that there was overnight paddock space for about 20 horses at the semi-private site, “in five minutes you can be in the mountains or along the beach or down in the sand.”

A multi-day excursion allows more exploration along all of the park’s biomes and she added,  a chance to interact with the park’s other guests.

“I can’t tell you about everyone’s experiences but we’re used to people who’d maybe never seen a horse before with the  Sheriff's Posse,” she said, “making introductions coming up and petting them, that sort of thing.”

It’s a delicate balance, as Camp Host Elizabeth DeRoos noted, “horse people are very protective of their critters, we ask everyone in the [Islay] campground to follow the rules and not intrude on others already,” she added that they maintain a quiet neighborhood feeling, but the horses, bikers and hikers meet each other regularly on the trails, and signs point to proper yield etiquette.
So far, said DeRoos, the only major issue guests have reported this Spring is disappointment that dogs are no longer allowed, leashed or otherwise, on most trails. Well behaved “good boys” are still welcome at basecamp, however.

For site availability, go online to www.reservecalifornia.com/CaliforniaWebHome/

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