LAKE FOREST, CA—Many parks like Orange County’s Whiting Ranch were still closed in mid-November with no time line on when they may reopen.
There are no hard and fast rules when a burned area may be suitable for public access, said Daniel Greenstadt, International Mountain Bicycling Association California state rep for the southern region. Different land agencies, whether it be federal, regional, state or county parks, have different policies.
Two main issues arise once people are let back in; one: the burned area now becomes one huge trail, where bikers and hikers can go off in any direction.
“This is a big problem for land managers who may be struggling to keep trail users on designated trails,” he said.
The public’s safety also has to be considered. “Bicyclists tend to be a hardy bunch who are accustomed to being self-reliant in the backcountry and would not be bothered by a temporary lack of facilities or the need to workaround a few obstacles,” he said. “Unfortunately, land managers have to base access decisions on all the user groups.”
Mother Nature can also wreak havoc on fire-ravaged areas. Without plants and roots to slow and absorb winter rains, water flows unobstructed, picking up soils freshly disturbed by fire and by firefighting operations.
“The situation is further aggravated by the fact that our wildfire season is in the late fall, exposing soils just before our typically brief but often heavy winter rains,” Greenstadt said.
A park’s post-fire life isn’t all bad news, however. “The first few growing seasons following a fire typically bring an explosion of plant species that had been waiting for such an event,” Greenstadt said. “The land will recover completely, but trails and other facilities always require attention and resources from land managers, mountain bikers and other trail users.”