The U.S. Forest Service will reopen areas burned in last year’s Zaca Fire on Friday, but hikers and explorers may find the terrain and trails they knew before the blaze have completely changed.
“A great deal of dry ravel (erosion) occurred immediately after the fire, and the winter rains and heavy snowfall caused additional damage,” Los Padres National Forest supervisor Peggy Hernandez explained.
“Particularly hard hit are vulnerable midslope trails like segments of the popular Santa Cruz trail, and the Grapevine and Potrero trails in the San Rafael Wilderness. Another key area that sustained significant damage is the Manzana Narrows. Many sections of the trail system have been completely obliterated.”
About 167 miles of backcountry trail were affected by the Zaca Fire, backcountry manager Kerry Kellogg said. Hikers will have to watch out for the damage left by the fire that consumed more than 240,000 acres of forest late last year, like rockslides and landslides, and burned tree limbs that can fall unexpectedly. There could also be deep gullies, missing trail signs and terrain that will continue to change until vegetation becomes re-established.
“Hikers may be able to pick their way across some damaged areas, but stock would have a very difficult time,” said Kathleen Phelps, district ranger for the Santa Lucia District, which encompasses most of the San Rafael Wilderness.
Of particular concern are sideslope trails where horses may not be able to turn around safely if they encounter a landslide or gully.
While many trails are damaged, some irreparably, some previously impassable trails have resurfaced thanks to the fire.
“For instance, the Hurricane Deck trail is now visible, although it is hard to follow in midslope areas,” Santa Barbara District Ranger Cindy Chojnacky said. “The trails in Indian and Mono Creeks are not in great shape, but the canyons have silted in and the creek banks are fairly easy to hike.”
The best advice for would-be explorers, she said, would be to “check with the district on specific
areas and don’t count on making a loop trip.”
The Forest Service and its volunteers will continue to monitor trail conditions and repair trails. Priority areas have seen some work, which will expand as the ground stabilizes. Other places in the backcountry have not even been examined, like the Dick Smith and San Rafael wildernesses. Some of the more remote trails, Chojnacky said, may never get re-established.
In addition, several areas will be subject to temporary closures during rainy periods, and others will be closed off to vehicle access to protect open space, fuelbreaks and fire containment lines until vegetation returns, like an 11-mile segment of Buckhorn Road starting from its intersection with Camuesa Road. Other roads outside the burned area that have been damaged because of firefighting efforts will also be closed for repairs.
For more information about trails in the Santa Barbara Ranger District, call 805.967-3481. For information about trails in the Santa Lucia District, call 805.925.9538.