County park officials assessing the wreckage left behind by historic wildfires warn residents that some publicly accessible spaces will remain closed into next year as substantial repairs are completed.
With 2,845 acres of park land burned in Pescadero Creek County Park by the CZU Lightning Complex, a combination of fires spanning over 86,000 acres, County Parks Director Nicholas Calderon said park closures are necessary to enable a safe recovery.
“I don’t see us being in a condition to open that safely. We need to understand what types of hazard trees we have. We’re going to have to rebuild a lot of those trails,” said Calderon.
All county land south of Old Haul Road, including Ocean View and Butano Ridge trails will be closed to the public for at least six to 12 months while repairs are being completed, Calderon said during an Oct. 1 Parks Commission meeting. Public spaces north of Old Haul Road, including Memorial and San McDonald parks, may be open to the public sooner, he said, either by this winter or spring of 2021.
Immediately after firefighters fully contained the flames, shared between San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, Cal Fire officials began clearing debris from 17 culverts, passages either under ground or along roads meant to guide excess water. Fire officials have also begun replacing three additional culverts and cutting ditches into trails to minimize soil erosion caused by water.
Park rangers are also working to clear hazardous trees and debris left behind by the fires. Scott Lombardi, San Mateo County park superintendent, compared the land along Butano Ridge to a “moonscape” and said the fire left behind a crust which appears solid but if stepped on can drop 3 to 4 feet.
“It’s very unsafe to be walking in this area until we have a chance to assess it and actually make trails through here to take out some of the damaged trees,” said Lombardi. “We have a lot of work in front of us.”
As traditionally done at the end of summer, park rangers are also beginning efforts to winterize the parks by placing additional straw barriers along hillsides to combat watershed. Pescadero Creek is prone to receiving high volumes of sediment and, with increased loose debris caused by emergency road widening, Calderon said mitigation efforts to keep debris out of the creek is “paramount.”
Once initial repairs are completed, Calderon said making science-based decisions for park and forest management will be vital for the future of the county lands. With a team of forest restoration experts including foresters and ecologists, Calderon said the department will eventually focus on three management areas, forest health, fuel reduction and carbon sequestration.
“How do we take science-based management practices and apply that? That’s a big question we’re going to have to answer. I don’t have that answer right now. It’s too soon after the fire and we haven’t had the time to properly assess the park,” said Calderon.
Park commissioners expressed concern for the workload faced by park personnel to which Calderon said the team is managing well currently but may have to readjust priorities as large landscaping projects develop.
“It’s overwhelming right now to think of this fire and to think of the future in terms of bringing that land into some semblance of usability and sustainability. I think there will probably be an unlimited amount of volunteer opportunities,” said Commissioner Neil Merrilees.
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