The “el Niño” weather pattern is being talked about more and more on the news. In Southern California, we’ve had a few days of not particularly heavy rains. This can lead to closure of our national, state, and local parks and recreation areas for a few days after a rain to allow the lands to dry out and become accessible to the public. This isn’t a bad thing; walking on muddy trails can cause damage that can last well for weeks or months afterwards.
Generally, public lands will open up after three days to hikers. Mountain bikers and equestrian trails may stay closed longer. Check at your local park entrance to see what is closed and what is open. From the Irvine Ranch Conservancy page:
“…The expected rain is a welcome change for flora and fauna, but California’s recent drought has left many trail surfaces so dry that even those constructed to direct runoff into surrounding habitat could be overwhelmed by an abundance of rain. Landowners and managers are prepared to evaluate potential storm damage and reduce long-term effects, but you too can minimize rain damage by understanding wet trail conditions and abiding by closures to the trail system.
Open space trails throughout the Landmarks will generally be closed after one half-inch of rain. Visitors to parks open daily will see signs at the park entrance about trail closures, and docent-led activities will be canceled by the group leading the activity. It’s important to remember that these closures may extend past the actual rainfall, potentially up to three days. During these cooler winter months, the trails will take some time to dry out, and trails that may look dry at the trail head may travel over shady sections or dips that could still be muddy.
Once trails re-open, visitors can further help avoid damage by avoiding muddy spots. If a trail is mostly dry with only a couple of wet areas, landowners will usually open that trail to visitors. Also, if a trail is dry enough for foot traffic, the landowners may determine that it is not yet dry enough for mountain bike riders or equestrians. The tire track and horse hooves could leave more of an impression on a damp trail than individual footfalls.”
Rain is welcome, and making sure that we’re good stewards of the lands after the rains will ensure that we can enjoy them sooner and for years to come.