What’s the Latest on the Los Padres National Forest?

Storm Damage Update from Bryan Conant of Los Padres Forest Association

What’s the Latest on the
Los Padres National Forest? 

Storm Damage Update from Bryan Conant
of Los Padres Forest Association

By Matt Kettmann | June 8, 2023

Credit: Bryant Baker/Los Padres ForestWatch

Read more of our Blue & Green 2023 stories here.

For those of us who’ve lived under drought conditions for most of our lives, the natural instinct is that all rain is good, especially for the backcountry wildlands like the Los Padres National Forest. But as we were quickly reminded after this past winter’s powerful storms, while rain giveth, it too taketh away, specifically in the form of the trails and camps that we rely on to enjoy these pristine places. 

“There were two completely different storm events that both greatly damaged the trails and camps in two completely different ways,” explained Bryan Conant, the executive director of the Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA). The first was in early January, when almost an entire year’s worth of rain dumped across the entire forest in a few days, sending waterways above the 50-year flood levels and washing away everything built in those zones. 

“Most of the creek-trail crossings were annihilated,” said Conant, who also saw campgrounds and quarter-mile sections of trails blown out. “We also saw saturated sections of hillsides slide down all across the forest, taking out sections of trails along the way.”

The second storm was in early March, when snow levels came into the 2,000- to 3,000-foot range, knocking down trees and brush unused to a blizzard’s burden. “Snow is heavy and either causes trees to snap and break, or weighs down chaparral brush, causing the brush to lean into the trails,” said Conant, who called the winter a “one-two punch of water and snow damage.” 

The most severe impact is the extended closure of Highway 33 outside of Ojai, the route to the Matilija and Sespe wildernesses as well as the popular campgrounds of Rose Valley, Wheeler Gorge, and Pine Mountain. It’s been closed since January, and will probably stay that way through summer. “While we can’t predict when Highway 33 will reopen, we are hopeful it will be sooner rather than later so that folks can enjoy the beautiful water along the Sespe this season,” said Conant, who recently surveyed the road. 

Dick Smith Wilderness | Credit: Bryant Baker/Los Padres ForestWatch

Closer to home, vehicle access to Red Rock will be closed all summer, but people are allowed to hike and bike in. Meanwhile, popular front-country and Paradise Road trails such as San Ysidro, Romero, Aliso, and portions of Arroyo Burro, Jesusita, and Santa Cruz will remain closed until they are fixed up enough for the Forest Service to deem them safe.

“We always encourage trail-users to support the trail organizations who work to keep these trails open,” said Conant, and these can be in the form of donations or volunteer hours. “Come out and volunteer,” he said, explaining that the LPFA will be working on the Santa Cruz and Aliso trails this summer. “We can use all the help we can get!”

The storms also brought some extra awe to the Los Padres. While surveying trails in the San Rafael Wilderness in February, Conant saw that half of the southern face of the previously very recognizable Hurricane Deck had slid away. “It looked like a giant bear had just scratched the heck out of the Deck, leaving claw marks of landslides across the entire face,” he said. “Literally half of the geography of the Deck changed in the storms. It was powerful seeing geomorphology in action.”

And while surveying the upper Santa Ynez, an area that he’s visited and mapped dozens of times, Conant couldn’t even recognize many places. “Water is so powerful,” he said, “so neat to see.” 

See lpforest.org.

Credit: Bryant Baker/Los Padres ForestWatch


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