Daryl Hodges | Credit: Courtesy
Credit: Courtesy

The last time Daryl Hodges hiked up to the hot springs above Montecito, he said people were soaking peacefully. “We’ve heard anecdotally that a couple of bad apples fall from the tree after dusk,” said Hodges, the Santa Barbara District Ranger for Los Padres National Forest. He knew that nearby residents were extremely worried about an event like 2008’s Tea Fire, which erupted after dusk when sundowner winds blew an inadequately extinguished bonfire into life and took out 210 homes before it was done. Hodges noted that campfires are banned in the forest currently and that they’d had to close Los Padres last year because of fire dangers.

The issue of fire and evacuation has put the Hot Springs Trailhead in a spotlight recently, as residents have complained about illegal parking, while the county is trying to get landowners to remove their incursions into the public right-of-way that are taking up potential parking spaces. And parking is a hot potato because of the recent viral popularity of the geothermal pools, which many attribute to the pandemic.

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Because the pools are in the federal Los Padres National Forest, Congressmember Salud Carbajal convened a meeting including neighbors, law enforcement, County Parks officials, and a representative from 1st District Supervisor Das Williams’s office. At the meeting, Lieutenant Michael Wolfe of the California Highway Patrol said about 600 enforcement actions took place at the trailhead between December and May, ranging from verbal warnings about illegal parking to towing about 40 vehicles parked in the roadway.

And while most hikers were good stewards of the land, a few people were not and left trash behind. “There may be environmental degradation occurring from the simple fact that people put sunblock on,” Hodges noted. “The solution needs to be a collaborative effort, and we have a good start.”

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