In July 2013, the Mountain Fire burned more than 26,000 acres with both the fire and the immediate rainstorm destroying miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Almost 15 miles from Garner Valley near Paradise Corner to Saddle Junction had to be closed for safety reasons.
Much of this trail remains closed. For the past two springs, PCT hikers have had either to walk Highway 243 to Idyllwild or be fortunate enough to catch a ride to town.
Now, maintenance on the trail portion east of Garner Valley has started and the Forest Service expects it to be completed next spring, according to John Ladley, recreation officer for the San Jacinto Ranger District.
However, the greater portion of the trails remain unrestored. Their repair will require several more years, he added.
The severe rain, not the fire, damaged the trails, according to the Forest Service report. “This area experienced two heavy rain events that created debris flows, rock fall, severe erosion, and mass wasting in the burn area and to the PCT … more than 90 percent of the trail within the burned area affected by heavy erosion and gullies, wash outs, rock fall, and structurally compromised retention walls and switch-back structures. Numerous down trees across the trail and hazard trees within striking distance of the trail were observed.”
Restoration could not begin immediately. Furthermore, the district did not have the funds to repair the massive damage. The Forest Service evaluated needed repairs, developed plans for three phases and completed the environmental planning in July 2015.
The first two phases are the 6.3 miles from the PCT junction with Cedar Spring Trail, north to the junction with Apache Spring Trail, as well as the 1.5 miles of the Fobes access trail.
Funding ($250,000) for this work was secured this year. Repair and maintenance work began on the Fobes access trail and Phase I of the PCT in September. Organizations helping with this work include the Urban Conservation Corps, American Conservation Experience and PCT Association crews.
“It is anticipated, depending upon weather, that most or all of the repair and maintenance work for phases I and II of the PCT project and the Fobes trail will be completed … by the end of summer 2016,” Ladley wrote in a recent email to the Town Crier.
But the damage to the rest of the trail was much more severe and will require more money and time. Almost a year ago, in January, California State Park trail experts completed an extensive trail assessment for the Phase III segment of the PCT project (8.5 miles from the junction with Spitler Peak Trail, north to trail 3E41 at the Tahquitz Creek crossing), according to Ladley.
Funding has been requested, but may not be available until 2017 or 2018. When available, the current plan focuses first on repair and maintenance of the Spitler Peak access Trail, and storm proofing of Phase III (8.5 miles) of the PCT project.
Phase III of the PCT project will repair the most challenging portions of the damaged trail. Not only will the logistics be challenging, but there is extensive damage such as unstable soils on steep slopes (eastern face of the San Jacinto Mountains) and extensive rock retention wall reconstruction, according to Ladley.
The type of work necessary to repair the Pacific Crest Trail before it can be reopened
- Brushing maintenance: Removal of living or dead vegetation within the trail way that is prohibiting the designed use of the trail or is out of compliance with the brushing standards for that trail.
- Down Tree Removal: Logging and removal of trees lying across the trail way.
- Tread maintenance: This work involves removal of all organic debris from the trail bed, removal of soil and debris on the inboard hinge and the soil berm on the outboard hinge of the trail to reveal the existing hardened tread surface, includes de-compacting; reshaping and compacting the entire trail bed to achieve proper out slope and sheet drainage.
- Drainage features: These features include rock or wood water bars and drainage dips. Cleaning, maintenance and resetting rock bars along tread surface will be necessary.
- Rock retention walls: Retention walls along sections of trail that have failed due to the fire will be maintained and repaired. This work includes gathering rocks, preferably ones left behind, and repairing the wall to Forest Service standards.
- Armoring switchbacks: Rocks will be placed throughout the interior of switchback climbing turns to mitigate water damage to trail tread. This technique is also beneficial in preventing users from cutting switchbacks and furthering trail and resource degradation.
- Signing: Replacing trailhead and directional signage at intersections.