Popular Los Angeles Hiking Trails Fall into Disrepair: Local Fire Roads Overgrown with Brush

The Trailer Canyon Fire Road, in the Palisades Highlands is overgrown with brush, which could present problems during fire season for people who live next to the mountains.
Photo: Sarah Stockman

By SARAH STOCKMAN

Circling the News Contributor

Temescal Gateway Park is a beautiful stretch of chaparral, sycamores and eucalyptus trees north of traffic-logged Sunset Boulevard. It’s popular with Palisadians and visitors alike, allowing hiking access into the greater Santa Monica Mountains, including Will Rogers State Park and even Ventura County via the Backbone Trail.

Recently, hikers in the park may have noticed that the Temescal Ridge Trail, which loops past the waterfall and back into the park, has fallen into disrepair. Tall grass makes it hard to find; parts of it have crumbled over the side; deep ruts run through the center from heavy winter rains; and at one point a six-inch piece of rebar pokes through the surface.

Rebar sticking up in the middle of a popular hiking trail could present a tripping hazard.    Photo: Sarah Stockman

Circling the News contacted the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, which has jurisdiction over Temescal, to ask why the well-used trail has not been maintained. MRCA representative Jackie Mendoza was quick to point out that a majority of this trail actually falls under the purview of California State Parks since the trail enters Topanga State Park.

This information prompted CTN to look at another trail in the Palisades that is part of Topanga State Park, namely the Trailer Canyon Fire Road in the Highlands. We found that it was in a similar state of disrepair with grasses over six feet high covering a trail that’s supposed to be wide enough to accommodate a jeep.

According to Bill Vanderberg of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, the reason for this neglect on the Trailer Canyon trail is due in part to last year’s Woolsey Fire, which burned almost 97,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.

“Last month I did take the concerns of folks about this trail to State Parks… but they are completely over-burdened with repairs and restoration work from the Woolsey Fire,” he said.

Jerry West, the acting Deputy District Superintendent of the Angeles District of California State Parks, echoed Vanderberg’s assessment.

“As a result of the Woolsey Fire we have experienced a huge re-growth of vegetation in the impacted areas consuming much of our resources that would normally also be working in Topanga State Park,” he said.

According to West, this includes fixing damage done by the fire and also clearing areas that could be impacted by a future fire. “We have some crews clearing defensible space around our facilities and others fixing what was damaged by the fire,” West said.

Vanderberg said that regardless of the Woolsey Fire, the responsibility of clearing local trails usually falls on the Temescal Canyon Association and the Sierra Club and has since the trails were built over 40 years ago.

“The State Parks trail crew for the entire Santa Monica Mountains consists of only three individuals,” he said. “If we didn’t do it, it would never get done.”

West had a slightly different take. “Most of the trail work is completed by volunteers simply because we don’t have the staff available to tackle all the needed work,” he said. “We just can’t get enough folks to come work for us for one reason or another.

“In addition to these two trails [Temescal Ridge and Trailer] we have another 200 plus miles of trail to maintain throughout the entire Santa Monica Mountains,” West said.

Vanderberg has arranged for the Temescal Ridge Trail to be cleared this Saturday, September 28, as part of National Public Lands Day, which is an annual day of service in National Parks across the United States.

At this time there is no plan to clear the Trailer Canyon Fire Road. Deputy Superintendent West paid a visit to Topanga State Park on September 10 and noted, “I had a chance to experience the heavy vegetation plaguing our back country roads and trails.”

He emphasized that the back country roads were there for the enjoyment of visitors. “The main purpose of our roads is access for our park visitors to be able to experience the little bit of wild lands still left in Los Angeles County.”

When pressed about the safety of a fire road being overgrown, West cited a the September 11 Los Angeles Times article, which argued: “The state’s recent fire chronicles are riddled with examples of how such fuel break projects don’t guard against the wind-driven infernos that have laid waste to communities the length of California.”

“These back country roads, which may have at one time provided some sort of additional fuel break, are ineffective,” West said.

He added that despite the alleged ineffectiveness of these roads, he has reached out to the Los Angeles County Fire Department “to see if they may have resources they could share to help clear some of the vegetation and get their perspective on what their needs and priorities may be.”

At the time of publishing, West had not heard back from LACoFD.

For this Saturday’s Sierra Club trail clearing, contact Bill Vanderberg at (310) 245-2763 or meet in Temescal Gateway Park by the park office at 8:30 a.m. Wear long sleeves, pants, and sturdy hiking shoes, and bring a hat, water and snacks.

If you’re interested in volunteering for future trail clearing, please contact Dale Skinner of California State Parks at dale.skinner@parks.ca.gov.

Hiking trails around Pacific Palisades are in need of clearing and repairing cliff  hazards.  Photo: Sarah Stockman

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