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Trails in the Time of Covid

It’s been a tough season for our trails. Too many people are flocking to the South Coast Wilderness and our ability to maintain our trails has been seriously constrained.

The major cause of these changes has been the COVID-19 pandemic. Trail use of all kinds increased dramatically as people found themselves with more time on their hands and limited options regarding how to spend that time outside of their homes. Unusually dry weather, added to this combination of increased use and less maintenance, has led to the degradation of our trails

For the first several months of the lockdown, LCF staff and volunteers weren’t able to work in the Parks and the OC Parks staff was reduced to a skeleton crew. Thankfully, the OC Parks heavy equipment trail contractor was able to keep working during this period, re-working several trails including Canyon and Blackjack in the Dilley Preserve, Little Sycamore and a portion of Camarillo Canyon on the other side of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, and 5 Oaks in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

Pre-Approved Volunteers Todd and Jeremy work on the trails

In addition to increased use of the authorized trail system by the general public, we also saw some new unauthorized trails created, with new routes cut through pristine habitat. Because OC Parks is mandated to prevent the creation of unauthorized trails in order to protect the important habitat that the Parks were created to preserve, many of the available resources shifted to repairing these new scars, further reducing our ability to maintain the existing network of trails.

LCF staff and our long-term, certified volunteers have begun to slowly return to the Parks, under strict limitations designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Currently, groups are limited to no more than three people who must wear masks and stay physically distanced. Each person needs to be assigned their own set of tools, which need to be disinfected before and after each event. In addition, only one person can ride in a vehicle. This means each person needs to make their own way to the work site (volunteers either need to hike or bike in to remote work sites).

Since the rains in December, LCF and our dedicated volunteers have been getting out and working on the trails as much as we are able. We have been out in the parks 20 days so far this season, and maintained and improved over 120 drains, cleared brush from almost a mile of trail, improved 250 feet of tread (the trail itself), and naturalized and reseeded over 1,000 square feet of areas impacted by trail widening.

Trail work is always hard work, though usually enjoyably so (we often tell our volunteers that if they weren’t having fun, there’s something wrong). Being out on the trails by myself, or with one or at most two other workers at a time, though, has given me a new appreciation for how much hard work it actually takes to maintain a trail.

Trail Volunteer Day (Pre-Covid)

Where once, during a well-attended volunteer event, we might maintain 60 drains in a day, now we are recording five, or in some cases just two or three.

Similarly, we might have been able to brush 3,000 feet of trail in one day, and now it might take us 4 or 5 days to accomplish that much.

All of this just drives home just how much our trails depend on the hard work of our volunteers.

Once the pandemic has slowed, we look forward to many more opportunities for volunteers to come out and help us maintain and repair trails. We also hope that this time will lead people to recognize that open spaces are vital for their health and well-being, and that this will lead society to allocate more resources to protecting these wild places.

In the meantime, we are doing our best with the time and resources that we have to keep our trails safe and address the worst-impacted areas. If you are a trail user, you can help by staying on authorized trails, following all Park rules and regulations, staying off of the trail margins, and spreading the word to other users to “Use it Like you Love it.”

Thanks for reading.

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