Thomas Fire Closure Update & NTD 2018

Naked Matilija Wilderness
THOMAS FIRE CLOSURE LIFTED
The Forest Service unexpectedly lifted their Thomas Fire closure last week.  This reopens all of the Los Padres portion of the Thomas Fire burn scar to most of its normal use.  While the majority of the public should be rejoicing at the chance to get back into the forest, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.  Here are a few tweaks and warnings you should be aware of before relaunching into the forest:

  • While the Forest Service has reopened their previously closed land, both the City and County of Santa Barbara have decided to keep their portions of the burn area closed.  You can read more details on the Noozhawk article by Ray Ford.  The City and County of SB control much of the lower portions of the Santa Barbara Frontcountry, including the trailheads at Cold Spring, San Ysidro and Hot Springs Canyon.  This means that while the upper Frontcountry within the Los Padres is open, people cannot access the trails through the more popular lower trailheads.  This has created a bit of a conundrum as stakeholders and trail-users attempt to figure out the best ways to legally enjoy the trails.  We’ll keep you posted as news develops……..
  • The LPFA has been busy over the past days installing yellow warning signs at the trailheads around the Thomas burn area, see photo below.  Please do be careful if you are within the burn area.  There are many loose rocks and hazard trees that have not succumbed to gravity quite yet.  Pay special attention on switchback sections where people above might trigger a loose rock on trail users below.  Also, if you plan on camping in the burned area, be really careful of hazard trees and limbs that might fall.
  • Portions of the town of Montecito remain in a state of disrepair as they continue to deal with repercussions from the Thomas Fire and January 9 debris flows.  There is still a lot of heavy equipment moving rocks and pushing dirt, and some shocking house damage remains within the community.  Please be mindful and respectful.
  • The Romero Camuesa Road from Romero Saddle down towards Pendola remains closed to vehicles/motorcycles as does Divide Peak OHV.  Hikers and bicyclists are able to use these roads.  No timetable has been set as to when the road and OHV route might reopen but don’t count on it happening anytime soon.
  • Both Rose Valley Campground and Middle Lion Campground remain closed.  No news as to when they might reopen.
  • While the forest is open, most of the trails have received little or no trail work since the winter rains.  You should plan on the trails taking significantly longer to travel than normal and be careful attempting shuttle trips as there may be some impassable sections of trail that may cause changes in your plans.
  • There have been some reports from within the burn area of the dreaded fire-follower plant called the Poodle Dog Bush.  Our unfriend, the Poodle Dog, causes human reactions similar to poison oak.  It’s a very picturesque purple flower that can grow in large robust fields that look like something you should dance through rather than skirt around.  Google search it please…….

Other than that, the forest has been reopened from the lower Sespe out to Gibraltar Road and up to Hwy 33.  Enjoy, be safe and please let us know if you come across any downed trees or horrible sections of trail that need significant work.  We’re helping compile a list of trail issues and any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Please share your reports on www.HikeLosPadres.com.  THANKS and be safe!

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This was (is) Matilija Camp? NATIONAL TRAILS DAY

National Trails Day is this coming Saturday, June 2 and the Los Padres has four trail projects scheduled within our forest:

MATILIJA TRAIL, Ventura County
The LPFA is organizing a trail project into the Thomas Fire burn area and focusing on restoring the lower portion of the Matilija Trail from the trailhead up to Matilija Camp.  The trail is covered in downed trees (crosscut sawyers needed) and burnt brush that we’ll be clearing from the trail corridor and if time allows we might work to uncover Matilija Camp, which was buried in boulders.  We’ll be meeting Saturday at 8am at Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center and working until 2pm.  REI will be joining us back at Wheeler Gorge with their famous “CHILL ZONE” and we’ll have a quick BBQ for the volunteers around 3pm.  It should be a special day and a lot of fun.  For more information check us out here or email INFO@LPForest.org

DAVY BROWN TRAIL, Santa Barbara County
The LPFA will also be hosting a trail project on June 2 along the Davy Brown Trail, off of Figueroa Mountain near Los Olivos.  We’ll be meeting at the upper Davy Brown Trailhead at 8am and from there working down Davy Brown and perhaps out the Willow Spur Trail.  Work will be mainly clearing downed trees and brush from along the trail.  Mike Smith is the project leader and we’ll work until the afternoon before returning to the trailhead.  Davy Brown is one of the more scenic trails in the area providing ocean views from the trailhead as well as views of Hurricane Deck.  It’s also home to a great variety of plants and flowers that make Figueroa Mountain so famous.  We hope to see you there.  Please RSVP if you can make it (INFO@LPForest.org) and click here for more details.

BOULDER CANYON TRAIL, Ventura County
Mark Subbotin will be leading a sawyer assault down the Boulder Canyon Trail along the northern slope of Pine Mountain.  There is an estimated 20+ trees down along the trail and we’re fairly certain they’ll get them all!  This is also part of the Condor Trail.  Details will be provided by Mark and the Mt Pinos Volunteers, you can reach Mark at: MSubbotin76@Gmail.com.

HORSEPASTURE TRAIL, Monterey County
The VWA is hosting a car-camping potential multi-day project along the Horsepasture Trail.  They’ll be working hard on Saturday and then playing equally hard on Sunday.  Sounds like a great project and a terrific way to get to know the area and the people who help keep the trails open.  RSVP required, please click here for more details.

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The Quick Gray Fox Jumps Over the Newly Restored Trail, photo Humphrey
FOREST 411

• As if this weekend wasn’t busy enough, the Wheeler Gorge Visitor Center is hosting a special talk on Saturday at 11am by local hiking author Dr. James Caballero entitled “Hiking Be Prepared”.  It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned hiking stud or a trail newbie, you’re assured to learn something new!  See you at Wheeler……. and stay for the REI BBQ!

GREAT NEWS!  The Ojai Ranger District released a scoping letter last week outlining an environmental proposal to approve all the ORD trails for Level 1-2 trail maintenance.  See attached letter to learn more and please respond if you’d like to see the Ojai trails improved.

• This weekend marked the launch of a temporary shuttle service that shuttles visitors from the Big Sur Station parking lot down to Pfeiffer Beach and back.  Beach access to Pfeiffer and overcrowding has been a serious problem over the past decade and the shuttle service is a pilot project to see if a shuttle can prevent traffic jams along Sycamore Canyon Road.  By most accounts the first weekend was a big success.  We’ll share more information on this in a future email.

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Pay Attention to the Thomas Fire Warning Signs, and Especially Pay Attention to the Signs of Thomas Fire Warnings, photo Gordon J.

State of the Winter, So Far…..

Matilija Canyon Changed Forever, Again – Nov 2017 & Jan 2018

Hello Friends,

This winter has not exactly gone as planned, has it?  We were in uncharted waters heading into the rainy season with the largest fire in California history still burning across the southern Los Padres and the already scorched mountains laying helplessly baron, devoid of any vegetation.  Our mountains are no strangers to fire but they’ve usually grown a protective five o’clock shadow of at least a few months of post-fire regrowth before the rains kick in.  We did not have that luxury with the Thomas Fire.  We were all hoping for extended light rain which might fend off the drought while at the same time not causing too much soil erosion.  That certainly has not been the case.  Rainfall totals are way down for the year, with most of the forest receiving well under 40% of average rainfall totals to date.  And all the rain that we have had essentially came in that one horrible storm on January 8.  So much for light rain over an extended period of time, we ended up with hard rain all at once; which, as you know, resulted in the tragic Montecito debris flows.  As of today, there is no rain in the extended forecast and we’re looking at what might be nearly a whole month in the heart of winter without any rain.  It’s really hard to know what to root for from here on out.  It might be best to get through the winter with as little rain as possible and sink back into what will be the 7-year drought.  Or perhaps we hope for rain and pray that we don’t get a repeat Montecito debris-flow.  Then again perhaps we stick to the gameplan and continue to root for light rain spanning the end of winter and into spring.  Who knows.  We’ve already seen so much destruction below the forest and so much change within it.  No matter what outcome we get please be careful.  The forest remains closed within the Thomas and Whittier Fire perimeters and should remain that way for quite some time.  For those looking to take advantage of the good weather, there are plenty of great trails to explore outside the burn perimeters.  It might require a slightly longer drive but there is water in most of the creeks, areas that have not burned and new trails to explore.
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United States Hero & Los Padres’ Own, David Dahlberg
FOREST 411
• In case you missed it, David Dahlberg was recognized earlier this week as part of President Trump’s State of the Union Address.  Dahlberg is a Los Padres Fire Prevention Technician and heroically saved the lives of over 60 people stranded at Circle V Ranch near the onset of this summers Whittier Fire.  While the Los Padres has been making national news of late, it was special to see David get a well deserved round of applause.  David, next rounds on me…..

Fire Restrictions were lifted on January 19 permitting campfires and target shooting.  See attached PDF for more information.  Please PLEASE, be careful with your fires and pick up your brass if target shooting.

Highway 33 remains closed between Ojai and Lockwood Valley Road.  It is possible the road will reopen on February 7 but you’ll want to confirm with CalTrans before attempting to drive through.

• The Thomas Fire was officially called 100% contained on January 12 at an astounding 281,893 acres.

Highway 1 along the Southern Big Sur Coast remains closed at Mud Creek due to the epic landslide from last spring.  It remains on schedule to reopen his summer.

• The FS will be implementing annual prescribed burns across the forest as conditions allow.

• As if TOTALITY wasn’t enough, yesterday we had the pleasure of witnessing the SUPER BLUE BLOOD MOON LUNAR ECPLISE, try saying that fast 10 times in a row.  It was spectacular.  In case you missed it, we will have another blue moon in March, just can’t promise the SUPER or LUNAR ECLIPSE parts.

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The SUPER BLUE BLOOD MOON LUNAR ECLIPSE, from Aliso Canyon, photo Orr
UPCOMING EVENTS

This time of year is supposed to be too rainy for any trail projects…..  Not this year and as you’ll see below, there are a lot of upcoming volunteer projects and events across the Los Padres that are taking advantage of the unseasonable weather.  We wanted to give you a heads up about one project in particular that popped up late this week:
ROSE VALLEY CLEANUP
Saturday February 3
8:30am at the Ojai Ranger Station
The LPFA is partnering with the Forest Service to arrange a special cleanup around Rose Valley.  Rose Valley burned in the Thomas Fire, revealing decades old trash that was buried in the brush.  We’ll be caravaning up to Rose Valley from Ojai to help cleanup the trash.  Hwy 33 remains closed to the public so it’s important to arrive on time in order to be part of the caravan through the barricades.  Once at Rose Valley, we’ll be spreading out, exploring the area and picking up any trash we see along the way.  Should be a special opportunity to see the burned area up close and help the forest in the process.  For questions you can email INFO@LPForest.org, check the link above and we hope to see you on Saturday at 8:30am sharp.
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Troop 111 from Ventura recently replaced the San Rafael Wilderness sign on the Judell Trail.  GREAT WORK!

newly restored trail sign along Davy Brown Trail.
The sign restoration was part of an Eagle Scout project compliments of Orcutt Scout Troop 91.

1st Thursday Holiday Party and Pritchett Success

The Ojai Pink Moment, Cara Blanca, photo Humphrey

Hello Friends,

We hope this email finds you doing well and hopefully a little sore after a great weekend on the trails!  The LPFA is a little sore as well after having over 70 volunteers on the trails this weekend doing trail maintenance and enjoying their time outside.  The one positive to not having much early season rain is that we’ve been able to host our regularly scheduled trail projects without being shutdown by rain.  That’s the good, the bad is that most of the Los Padres has received very very little rain so far.  It’s early but Santa Barbara County is only at 16% of normal rainfall for the season (Sep-Aug).  The lack of precipitation means that fuel moisture levels have remained low across the LP and as a result the Forest Service has not been able to change the fire restriction level.  Even with the cold/freezing nights we remain in Level III Fire Restrictions.  You can learn more about Level III here.  The fire restrictions were lifted by this time last year but it appears we’ll have to wait a few more weeks this time around.  We’ll keep you posted if anything changes, be patient and you might want to start dusting off the rain dance attire just in case……

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Susan Guy Giving New Light to Some of Our Favorite Los Padres Settings, Recognize Them?

SUSAN GUY 1st THURSDAY LPFA HOLIDAY OPENING
Local artist, LP explorer and Ojai Search and Rescue alum Susan Guy will be sharing her artwork at The Press Room in Santa Barbara on Thursday December 7 as part of the SB 1st Thursday art events. 1st Thursday has become a monthly tradition where galleries and art-related venues across SB feature visual and performing art within their regular social environment. They are a lot of fun. What’s even more fun about this event at The Press Room is that Susan will be donating a portion of all her art sales from the night to the LPFA Trail Care program – awesome, right? You’ll certainly notice a lot of local Los Padres vistas and landscapes in her paintings.  And, as if it couldn’t get any better, we’re going to try to turn the Press Room into a LPFA holiday party that night as well. So come on down Thursday around 7pm, have a drink, lets talk trails and favorite camp sites, mingle while admiring some amazing art, leave with some of that art, wear that holiday sweater or Los Padres themed attire and keep your eyes peeled for that mistletoe. It’s going to be a lot of fun, hope you can make it!
1st Thursday, Featuring Artist Susan Guy
The Press Room
15 East Ortega St.– Santa Barbara
Thursday December 7
7-10 pm
 

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Don Jack along the Pritchett Trail, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

PRITCHETT TRAIL SUCCESS
Last episode of the LPFA Email Newsletter we talked a little about some of the great partnerships that have developed around the forest.  Along those lines we wanted to share a success story from the Pritchett Trail at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG).  Earlier this year the LPFA was approached by the Botanic Garden about some trail damage they were dealing with along some of their over 5 miles of trails, in particular the more remote Pritchett Trail.  The trail was sustaining some major erosion damage and had one section near the bottom that was losing its battle with gravity and needed some serious work.  The LPFA does a lot of work in the deeper parts of the backcountry where we really don’t get a chance to visit and see our work during the storms that cause all the damage.  The idea of working on a trail just outside town where we could come and watch the water control structures do their thing right in the middle of a storm was very appealing.  So we reached out to longtime LPFA volunteer and nearby resident Don Jack to see if he’d be interested in helping the Botanic Garden with some trail restoration.  He was all about it and got started immediately working with the SBBG staff on plans and designs to fix the trail.  Fast forward a few months and Don had completed building water control along the entire stretch of trail in addition to constructing a rather complicated retaining wall at the bottom of the trail.  We recently took a tour of the trail with Don and the work he’s done in partnership with the Botanic Garden is amazing!  It will be really valuable for Don to visit the trail throughout the winter months and see how the water structures hold up.  And then we really can’t wait for him to apply that knowledge to the Los Padres on the next Working Vacation as well…………
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2018 Los Padres Calendars are Ready

The 2018 LPFA Los Padres Calendars have been sent to the printers!  Thanks to everyone who submitted well over 200 photos for the calendar!  We had a tough choice paring that down to the best 50 photos but we got it done.  The calendars are currently at the printers and should be ready in the next week.  There is a limited quantity available so if you’d like one be sure to place your order ASAP.  Calendars are $10 each with any proceeds going to the LPFA Trail Care program.  For more information or to order, click the link here!

LP STORMS 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

That’s not the Mississippi!  Santa Ynez River at Sage Hill, February 17, photo Chris Orr
Good Morning Everyone and Happy Presidents Day!

We are in the midst of what is clearly going to be remembered as an epic winter here in the Los Padres.  Last Friday, during the heart of the latest storm, some of us were watching the real-time flow rate in Sespe Creek.  The website lists the historic flood level crests along the Sespe and as the latest crest continued to climb, it started to creep up towards the all-time winters like 1978, 1969, 1983 and 2005.  Last Friday’s storm didn’t quite crack that list, at least along the Sespe, but we’re certainly headed towards 2017 being remembered in a similar fashion with those other most epic winters.  While we’ve all been praying for a season like this, it hasn’t been all rainbows and green grass for everyone around the forest.  The rains have certainly caused some challenges and will continue to do so.  Lets take a quick look at the GOOD, the BAD and the UGLY:
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Matilija Overflowing
THE GOOD
Last February the LPFA hosted a volunteer trail maintenance project up Santa Barbara Canyon.  We camped on a bench overlooking the dry creek (note: this is not an insignificant small creek) and had to have mules haul in water for the 3-day project.  There was no water in February!  That is not a problem we’ll have to worry about this year.  The creeks are flowing, rivers are raging and best of all, the lakes and reservoirs are filling up.  Water levels within the reservoirs are climbing fast.  There were reports that Lake Cachuma climbed 25ft this past weekend.  That’s great news and we should have nice flowing water for months to come!
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Rain Soaked Trail Damage, see the People on the Trail?
THE BAD
We’re getting reports from across the forest about damaged trails, downed trees, rutting, boulders, holes, slides and even NO MORE TRAIL!  After 4-5 years of drought, many of the trees have been compromised and with the saturated soil and wind, they are toppling down.  Same goes with water related soil damage like slides and sink holes.  The Forest Service, as well as volunteer groups from across the Los Padres, are working as hard as they can to get the trails cleared and safe for travel again.  The best thing you can do if you come across a trail hazard or downed tree is document that trail hazard and share that information.  www.HikeLosPadres.com is a great resource for sharing trail conditions or email a trail report to your local trail organization or FS trails person.  Speaking for all the trail maintenance people, we can’t help the trails unless we know where the trail damage is.  It really helps to take photos of the damage and include as much information as you can about the location and size/extent of the damage.  The trail-users far outnumber the trail maintainers, sharing information is a key component to making the trails good again.
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Highway 1, South of Big Sur, photo Father Zack, from BigSurKate
THE UGLY
Do you see the “PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY” Los Padres Forest sign in the photo above?  It might need to be changed to say “YOU WON’T BE DRIVING FOR A WHILE”.  The roads in and around the Los Padres have clearly been the ugly casualty of the storms so far.  Most of the dirt roads around the LP have been closed for the winter (TBD the extent of the damage on those roads) but even the paved major access roads have been getting hammered:

  • Highway 33 out of Ojai has been closed on/off all winter and remains closed today due to slides.
  • Hwy 41 finally reopened after being closed for over a month due to a landslide.
  • I5 near Gorman sustained some major damage this past weekend.
  • And other temporary closures including Hwy 154, Lockwood Valley Rd, 101, etc……

But none of this compares to what has been happening along the Big Sur Coast.  It’s been a tough year to say the least.  First, the massive Soberanes Fire and now crazy amounts of rain followed by flooding and landslides.  Hwy 1 remains closed between Ragged Point (southern end) and Big Sur Station (northern end).  Slides, such as the one in the photo above, have been regular occurrences along Hwy 1.  It seems that as soon as one slide is cleared or mitigated, another slide occurs.  At one point there were reports of over 20 slides blocking Hwy 1.  In addition, the Forest Service has closed the Nacimento-Fergusson Rd west of Coast Ridge Rd due to road slippage.  And as if that was not enough, structural damage was discovered on the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge (just south of Big Sur Station) which has completely blocked access along Hwy 1 in Big Sur.  A slide has developed under the bridge that has caused the structure to move 7 inches within the past week.  Quite a mess!  We won’t try to predict a timeframe as to when Hwy 1 will reopen in Big Sur, but it’s looking likely it will be closed for quite a while.

Sorry for the UGLY news last.  I wish they had called that movie The Ugly, the Bad and the Good.  Oh well.  In time the Ugly will be repaired, the Bad will be maintained and we’ll be left with beautiful creeks flowing well into summer and more water than we’ve seen in quite some time.  That is Good.  Until then, please be careful and never underestimate water.

Santa Ynez Double Rainbow