Snow Attracts Visitors to Los Padres Forest Despite Closure Order
National Forest Closed in Santa Barbara Through March 14, but Hundreds Still Head for Hills in Pursuit of Powder
The snow falling on the Oregon border now is anticipated to arrive in Santa Barbara by Wednesday morning, thrilling residents anew with the sight of white-capped mountains and creating a public safety nightmare for the U.S. Forest Service.
“The forest is closed,” said Daryl Hodges, who heads the Santa Barbara Ranger District for Los Padres National Forest, which includes the tall and snow-covered San Rafael mountains in the county’s interior. “I get it. People want to play in the snow; they want to make snowmen; they want to snowboard; they want to get that experience.” But they can’t for a number of reasons, all having to do with the January rains and the ruined roads, trails, and bridges in Los Padres where the Forest Service is busily assessing and getting repairs underway. Hodges asked for patience with the 60-day closure, which includes his district, as well as Monterey, Santa Lucia, and Ojai.
A crew of five to six foresters from Plumas National Forest — and their excavators, loader, and backhoe — are helping Los Padres employees clean up after rockslides and tree limbs from January 9’s unrelenting blasts of rain. Two more crews will arrive when the group from Plumas leaves for Big Sur, which has its own daunting issues of roads washed out and slides from the winter storms.
In Santa Barbara’s backcountry, the crews are working down along Paradise Road, where the river crossings are washed out, up along Figueroa Mountain Road, and on most of the trails and forest roads in between. “This was the most precipitation we’d had since the 1969 storm,” Hodges said, “and we had a lot of damage to campsites, day-use areas, trails, and roads. We have a lot of work to do, and we want to do it safely. We have a lot of heavy equipment out there, and we’re working as hard and fast as we can.”
Ice on the Cold Spring Bridge is blamed for three separate crashes on the 154 Sunday morning, involving a big rig and eight vehicles, that sent an elderly man and two pregnant women to the hospital. An estimated 300 cars cruised across East Camino Cielo past the closed signs and barricades. By dusk, the traffic on the mountaintop road was so thick that a line of red taillights could be seen from Isla Vista. At Figueroa Mountain in the San Rafaels, the same strictures apply, and $150 tickets were handed out when people moved barricades aside and drove on through.
Not only that, but road-rage incidents broke out around the traffic jams, cars bumped into each other on the icy roads, and many had to be towed after getting stuck in the mud and snow. The roadblocks some people moved had been put there for safety reasons, the Sheriff’s Office stated.
On the city and county front-country trails that lead up to the forest, the slick, muddy paths go for about a quarter to a half-mile before “closed” signs are posted. As in Los Padres, serious washouts and rockfalls occlude nearly all of them. A nifty Open Trails map put together by Los Padres ForestWatch updates the current open and closed status of trails in the area, and Los Padres lists trail status at fs.usda.gov/recmain/lpnf/recreation.
Rain and snow are definitely on their way again. Late Tuesday looks to be rainy and cold, and by Wednesday, a new fluffy layer of snow will ice the mountaintops, Eric Boldt of the National Weather Service assured. Santa Barbara hasn’t seen this much snow since around 1962, when about two feet dropped at the highest elevations. Wednesday will bring the flurries down to about 1,500 feet, Boldt said, which is certainly in our neck of the woods that we’re all supposed to stay out of until March 14.
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