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A New Landscape

Santa Barbara News-Press 14 January 2005

LEAH ETLING

NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

FRONT COUNTRY TRAILS HOLD DANGER AND SURPRISES AFTER RECENT RAINS

This story was supposed to be the first in a series of suggested hikes in the Santa Barbara front and back country.

But recent weather has forced a number of trail closures, including some impacting the hike we had planned to suggest. Landslides, fallen trees and other damage could take volunteers months to repair. And with creeks full of rushing water, safety for wilderness wanderers is a major concern.

Some of the most popular trails nearby, including the Jesusita trail above San Roque and the Cold Springs trail in Montecito, are closed with mudslides.

Local trail expert and author Ray Ford has spent time this week surveying the trail damage and informing members of the Trails Alliance -- a group of trail-use organizations that have been working on way to resolve trail use conflicts -- how bad the damage is.

"Very heavy rains . . . have severely damaged the Cold Springs trail system and left both the main canyon and ridge trail impassable," Ford said. He didn't have to go far before finding huge boulders, mud and trail washouts.

He identified four areas of concern, a slide near the trailhead, loss of the trail due to flash flooding several hundred yards beyond the trailhead, the creation of a new side canyon above the switchbacks, and further exacerbation of slide erosion.

The main trail is now open up to the West Fork intersection due to quick work by volunteers, and two mudslides further along the trail are passable with extreme caution.

Ford said that on the Ridge Trail, the top corner of the upper switchback is gone and a major gully has appeared. Rocks and mud have also slid down the trail, making it impassable. The switchback is scheduled to be rebuilt by the weekend.

Another trail damaged is the Jesusita Trail. A mudslide about a quarter mile from the Cater Water Filtration Plant has closed that popular path.

On the San Ysidro Trail, the road section leading into San Ysidro Canyon was heavily damaged. There is a downed oak along the canyon trail, but it can be passed.

There may be many more areas of destruction that haven't been reached yet.

"I'm guessing there is a lot of damage like this and we'll find it once we can get across the creeks," Ford said.

He said it would take a few days for water levels to drop to passable heights, and even then, hikers need to exercise extra care.

" If you go in the water you are dead -- it's that simple. Along many sections of the Cold Springs Trail, though it might seem safe to walk along it, evidence of the mudslides is everywhere, and should one happen while you are passing by, the results more than likely would be similar to a plunge in the icy water," said Ford.

He offers the following tips for those who venture out.

  • Creek rocks are slippery. Crossings should be down enough to traverse this weekend, but be careful. Face upstream when crossing and lean into the current. If water is above your knees, look for another spot or do not cross.
  • Don't cross a creek if you could lose your footing. The water can sweep you downstream.

  • Look for the widest place to cross -- that's where the water is slowest. Avoid creek banks.
  • Monitor children very closely.
  • Wear old shoes, take a cell phone, and take a flashlight and matches just in case. Hiking poles are especially useful in adverse conditions.
  • Take a friend or two and let someone know when you expect to return home. Leave animals at home. Rushing water can sweep away pets.
  • Minimize trail damage by avoiding soft soils. Cyclists and equestrians are advised to wait a week for the trails to begin to dry out to prevent further trail damage.
    Ford is trying to rally community support to rebuild and repair the trails. Both manpower and funding are needed, he said.

F.Y.I.

On the Gaviota coast, the Arroyo Hondo Preserve is holding a trails day Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Volunteers will work on the front side of the West Ridge trails, where there has been some erosion. They'll also be tacking nonnative plants.

RSVP to volunteer coordinator Jane Murray at 684-4405 if you are interested.

The preserve, which is owned by the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, is located 23 miles north of Santa Barbara on Highway 101. Trail days are normally held on the third Saturday of each month.

ON THE WEB

  • To see more photos of damaged trails: photos.sb-outdoors.org/Monday-Brief
  • To report trail damage, visit: www.lpforest.org/SiteAdmin/TrailConditions.php
  • To donate to trail repair through the Montecito Trails Foundation:
    www.montecitotrailsfoundation.org
  • To volunteer or look for scheduled work days through the Front Country Trails Alliance:
    www.sbtrails.org
  • To volunteer or find hikes through Santa Barbara Outdoors:
    www.sb-outdoors.org