Ventura County

Rangers Find Falling Trees, Exposed Hazards in Parkland Closed Since Woolsey Fire

The fire began in Ventura County in November and burned south into Malibu

A prized recreational refuge from the city is still reeling from Woolsey Fire damage.

A small number of popular trails have reopened in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, but most remain closed awaiting the completion of assessments and remediation, authorities say.

"We're looking for immediate hazards," said Ferndando Gomez, Chief Ranger for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), which shares jurisdiction with California State Parks and the National Parks Service.

A widespread concern is burned oak trees--in some cases hollowed out--at risk of collapsing, a particular worry where they are near trails. The fire-cleared landscape has also revealed hazards long hidden by brush, including a drill hole, 105 feet deep and wide enough for a person to fall inside, found within a few yards of the New Millenium Trail, Gomez said.

The hollow shaft was quickly filled in, but Gomez said a thorough assessment is essential to locate other lurking dangers before the public is welcomed back.

Malibu Creek State Park also remains closed.

In recent years, the patchwork of mountain parks and some 500 miles of trails have annually lured visitorship in the millions.

Some trails on federal lands have reopened, including those in Paramount Ranch, and also in Cheeseboro and Palo Comado canyons, which are interconnected with trails which remain closed in MRCA's Upper Las Virgenes area, formerly known as the Ahmanson Ranch.

Crews in off-road "quads" have begun the Upper Las Virgenes assessment, but Gomez said it is premature to project when MRCA's trails can be reopened.

"It's going to take a while," Gomez said. "May take a month, may take two months."

Many of the trailheads have gates, and MRCA intends to keep them locked, but other entities also have access keys, and some of the gates have been left open. Gomez re-locked one he discovered Wednesday in Calabasas at the Zev Yaroslavsky Upper Las Virgenes Highlands Park.

Half an hour later, farther north, at the upper Las Virgenes trail head, a trail runner and two mountain bikers could be seen climbing over the gate--not to enter, but to depart the parkland. They said when they arrived in the morning, the gate was open, as it has been in recent weeks, and that they had not previously seen the closed sign affixed to the bulletin board kiosk on the inside of the fence.

They also said they did not see why the area needed to be closed.

"Threre's a couple of downed trees. Otherwise, it's pretty safe," said trail runner Jay Gillespie.

Those who have made their way into the burn zone said they were stunned by the transformation, but at the same time encouraged to see new growth already sprouting.

"It's so beautiful," exclaimed cyclist Isaac Goren, who said he's been riding trails in upper Las Virgenes 15 years, and never seen the landscape as it is now. "Eerie, but beautiful."

Those found inside closed areas are being asked to leave, said Gomez. At a  ranger's discretion, they could also be cited.

He said, so far, none has.

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