Hiking Trails Re-Open Four Months After Woolsey Fire

National Park Service crews had to reconstruct the trail at Zuma Ridge. Erosion caused by heavy rains following the fire, washed out sections of hillside. Photos by Suzanne Guldimann

More trails in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area have reopened following the Woolsey Fire, including two key segments of the Backbone Trail managed by the National Park Service.

It took four months of hard work, complicated by the government shutdown, but NPS crews have now restored access to almost all of the 67-mile-long Backbone Trail. Only a four-mile stretch from from Yerba Buena Road to the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead, and a six-mile segment from the Kanan Trailhead east to the Corral Canyon Trailhead remain off limits. Large portions of the trail have been closed since the Woolsey Fire destroyed 88 percent of federal parkland, and almost 50 percent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area last November.

The newly reopened areas include the 2.5-mile Zuma Ridge Backbone Trail segment, from Kanan Dume Road to Encinal Canyon, and Grotto Trail in the Circle X area, off Yerba Buena Road.

The Messenger Mountain News visited Zuma Ridge on the day the trail reopened. Without the vegetation, the formerly wooded trail is now a vertigo-inducing cliffside adventure in
places, but the trees, shrubs, and ferns were beginning to resprout.

All official trails in Circle X Ranch, one of the park’s most remote and scenic locations, are now open, including the Mishe Mokwa Loop, Sandstone Peak Trail, and the Tri Peaks Trail. Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons, Paramount Ranch, Rancho Sierra Vista and the Santa Monica Mountains Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch are also open.Other trails and areas in the park still closed include Solstice Canyon and trails in Zuma/Trancas Canyons.

“Our small trails crew, assisted on some days by our valuable partners, which include members of the California Conservation Corps, Camp 13 and the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, did a phenomenal job in restoring these trails,” said David Szymanski, superintendent of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “An especially rainy season hindered the work and created a variety of additional hazards, but these folks really came through and made it happen.”

Safety issues that had to be mitigated before the trails could be reopened include “hazard trees” (trees that were badly burned in the fire and are susceptible to falling); deep ruts and washouts; burned  and damaged stairs, culverts and bridges; and hazardous rocks. In many areas, the trail “pad” had to be recreated due to extensive damage.

Although these areas are now open, access is limited to trails only. Visitors are being asked to stay on trails and be aware that numerous safety hazards still exist. Hikers who go off trail can cause more damage to newly restored trails, trample new plants, and prevent the re-growth of fragile vegetation. They also risk injury. Without the buffer of vegetation many trails have steep drop-offs, and there are unseen hazards like tree wells and unstable rocks.

Nearly 90 percent of the National Park Service’s land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area burned in the Woolsey Fire. Restoration is an ongoing process, but several key areas recently reopened, including the Zuma Ridge segment of the Backbone Trail, which was hard-hit by fire and flood.

The NPS trail crew collaborated on multiple sections of the Backbone Trail with local members of the California Conservation Corps and Camp 13, the only all-female, Malibu-based fire camp in Los Angeles that occasionally assists with trail work. The Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council also helped repair a portion of the Backbone Trail section along Kanan Road in Zuma Canyon.


For more information, visit www.nps.gov/samo.


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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