Monday, March 20, 2023     Volume: 24, Issue: 3

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 15th, 2023, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 24, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 24, Issue 3

U.S. Forest Service lifts 60-day Los Padres closure

By Taylor O'Connor

Hikers and outdoor recreators can now hit the trails again in Los Padres National Forest as the U.S. Forest Service opened up access where it could. But the agency is still keeping severely damaged roads, trails, and campgrounds closed off to the public, Los Padres spokesperson Andrew Madsen told the Sun

The new order follows a 60-day closure in four of the forest’s five ranger districts after the January storms—which caused about $100 million in damages, or about four to five years of the forest’s regular budget, according to previous Sun reporting

After the January storms caused a 60-day closure in four of the five Los Padres National Forest Districts, the U.S. Forest Service updated its closure order to open up some trail access.

“We wanted to open up as much as we could outside of those roads, trails, and campgrounds that were severely impacted,” Madsen said. “There are trails that are going to require work over time, but they are in good enough condition to go out right now.” 

Seven of the nine Santa Barbara Ranger District’s frontcountry trails are open as of March 14, with the San Ysidro and Romero Trails still closed. A large portion of the district remains closed, including the majority of the backcountry, all trails within the Machesna Mountain, Garcia, and Dick Smith Wilderness, nine campgrounds, and more than 10 forest system roads, according to the Forest Service order. Find a full breakdown of the closures on the U.S. Forest Service website. 

“Any time a resident goes into the wildlands there are risks. Conditions have changed in the backcountry and their favorite trails are going to look a little different,” Madsen said “If it doesn’t look safe to go around obstacles, we encourage them to turn around.” 

During the 60-day closure, Forest Service rangers and volunteers with nonprofit organizations, such as the Los Padres Forest Association, went out to assess damage, conduct trail maintenance, and flag trails to help future hikers find the adjusted paths. As more rain came through the Central Coast, including two more atmospheric rivers and snow fall in early and mid-March, Madsen said the Forest Service is focused on “addressing the damages we already have” before worrying about future storm damage and asked people to be prepared if they decide to go out into the forest. 

“Make sure before you go out that you’re equipped and ready and not just going out to a particular trail without any information ahead of time, just to make sure it’s a more pleasant experience,” he said. 

Trail maintenance nonprofit Los Padres Forest Association added in an emailed statement that seasonal closures were enacted across the forest in areas that might normally be open due to the recent snow, including most of the Mount Pinos region—which was not a part of the original Jan. 13 closure.

The association said that the Forest Service will be frequently revising the closure order as trails and roads are fixed and restored. 

“Over the next few months, things will be changing quite a bit as the snow melts and repairs occur,” the association said in a statement. “Be patient but at the same time let’s work to make sure the [Forest Service] knows what areas should be prioritized to be reopened.”

With the forest’s access updated, Los Padres ForestWatch Director of Conservation and Research Bryant Baker said he and his team are updating OpenTrails, an interactive map that shows the status of Los Padres National Forest trails. 

“It’s been a process and it will keep being a process [as we] keep updating it today and tomorrow, as we continue communicating with the Forest Service,” Baker said. “We’ll be updating it regularly—multiple times a week—especially before the weekend when most people are out recreating.” 

Now, ForestWatch has a new employee to conduct field work and monitor trail status as well as work with the Forest Service, the association, and members of the public to ensure the most accurate information is readily available on the app

“I would just remind people that we’re not done with the rainy season and things could change. The storm on [March 14] could change conditions, trails that reopened may have a new slide or damage. People should use caution and be OK with turning back around,” Baker said. 

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