This spring, there is no better place to go and enjoy the onset of spring than Parma Park. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case. During the Tea Fire much of the 200-acre park was decimated by the fast-moving firestorm that swept over it and destroyed so many houses just across the street on Conejo Road.
Last fall as I walked through the east side of Parma I imagined the worst: the brush was gone, the hillsides bare, and it appeared that all that would be needed was the minimalist of storms to wash them away. But when the first, and then the second storm passed by without any of the trails sustaining major damage, I felt a glimmer of hope that the park would, indeed, survive.
This past week, as I walked the trails once again with survey gear on my back designed to map the park roads and trails, I could see the park beginning to come alive. On the west side, where the hills are more gentle and the burn a bit less of an impact, the grasses were already a foot tall. Lupine, poppies, a scattering of shooting stars, and a few other wildflowers were beginning to dot the hillsides. Even the oaks seemed to be making a comeback, their branches beginning to form clusters of new leaves.
Toward the east side of the park, where the hillsides had been burned down to mineral soil, there was little grass but loads of stump sprouters forming large clusters of greenery around their blackened branches. This is not to say there hasn’t been damage, but the perspective is instructive. Amid the surrounding hillsides that are still recovering, like the homeowners who are busily at work restoring their lives, Parma Park is coming back.
This last Friday, Jill Zachacy, assistant Parks and Recreation director for the City of Santa Barbara announced that Parma Park has been re-opened to the public. Increasingly, it was becoming more and more difficult to keep the park closed to such an attractive nuisance. Last Sunday, as I walked another section of the park I could see others out there as well: several hikers on their way to the tip top part of the park, a number of horse riders making their way down into the canyon, a jogger working his way uo to Mountain Drive; and several hang gliders packing their gear after an uneventful trip down.
Zachary cautioned that portions of Parma Park could remain closed, or will be closed in the future due to ongoing restoration and rehabilitation activities. She also reminded park users to stay on designated trails in the park. “Venturing off-trail could have significant impacts on recovering habitats and exposed soils,” Zachary noted, “This could also contribute to erosion and trail degradation.”
Here’s the deal: There’s no need to get off trail. The trails are plentiful and meander through almost all of the park. If you can’t see a particular spot from one location, no worries, you’ll more-than-likely see it from another spot. Not only are the views impeccable, the diversity as you meander from west to east, or vice versa, is quite amazing. From high meadows to oak forests, canyon vegetation and-on the east side-full-blown chaparral vegetation (or at least once again in a few years or so), you can’t go too far without a change in plant community.
While a two hundred acre park might not seem like that much, I’ll challenge you to see how long it takes you to walk the entire trails complex. I haven’t measured the total distance yet but I’m guessing it will run a bit more than five miles of trails and dirt roads-not quite a 10K experience but the ups and downs will make you feel like it is.
City Parks will tell you that the entry point to Parma Park is off Stanwood Drive, and it is true that this is the main way into the park but my favorite way to experience Parma is via Mountain Drive. Just uphill from Sheffield Reservoir you’ll spot Mountain Drive heading off to the right. Currently, Mountain Drive is still posted as closed but if you park just before the closed sign and meander east you’ll find the entry point into the park several hundred yards along Mountain Drive.
The entry takes you down into fields filled with green grasses, colorful wild radish, mustard, and sorrel. Within a few hundred more yards the views open up and the scenery takes on a grandeur that is sublime and at the same time overwhelming. There is no better place to wash away the bitter memories of last year’s Tea Fire and to celebrate nature’s way of rising up from the ashes.
PARK REMINDER: Hikers and horseback riders are permitted on roads and designated trails within Parma Park. Bicycle and mountain bike riders are only permitted on the Ridge trail, in alignment with the fire road. Hang gliders are permitted to land within Parma Park. Dogs are permitted on-leash and on-trail within the park. Dog owners are responsible for clean up and disposal of dog waste.