Developed recreation sites in California will remain closed through May 15 after the USDA Forest Service issued an order extending the closures Thursday.
The order was issued for the entire Pacific Southwest Region and its 18 National Forests, which includes the Los Padres National Forest.
The initial closure order went into effect March 26 and was set to expire April 30.
It applied to recreational use areas such as campgrounds, day use sites and picnic areas.
The order was issued to discourage large gatherings of people and promote safe social distancing of staying more than six feet apart.
In the Santa Barbara Ranger District, 12 campgrounds and picnic areas will remain closed, including the Fremont campground and White Rock and Red Rock picnic areas.
The order Thursday does not add to the closures already in place for Santa Barbara. While other areas like the Monterey Ranger District have closed trailheads and forest roads, locals will still have access to the many Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara Front Country trails and access roads.
“What we’re seeing a lot of folks are doing is they’re driving up alongside of the road and just going for hikes up there. That’s ok. There’s not an order against hiking trails,” said Andew Madsen, U.S. Forest Service spokesman.
“We just want to make sure if people go out they’re safely spaced between one another. If you get to a trailhead and there’s just too many cars there, you should find a different area to go to as opposed to trying to get in.”
As state and local responses to the coronavirus pandemic continue to evolve, the Forest Service felt that the situation warranted a two week extension of the closures, said Mr. Madsen.
“At the end of that they’ll evaluate and see where we’re at and whether or not we’re going to continue as we need it,” said Mr. Madsen.
“This order can be rescinded at any time. If local health officials say it looks like the sky has cleared up we can rescind the order tomorrow. For right now, we don’t want to extend it out too far. We just want to make sure in the next couple of weeks as we monitor what’s going on that we are taking the appropriate steps along with our state and local partners.”
The reason for the sweeping closures is to ensure that all recreational areas in California’s National Forests are in compliance with state and the local health officials, Mr. Madsen told the News-Press.
“What ends up happening is if you close one area people go to a different one. We’ve got all of these closed down so we’re all aligned,” said Mr. Madsen.
While Mr. Madsen said he certainly hopes those planning to camp and hike in California this summer will be able to, the Forest Service will have to wait for the all clear from health officials to open.
“We’re going to follow the CDC guidance and what we’re hearing from Santa Barbara County health officials. When everyone’s in agreement that we’re safe to begin reopening different places we’ll all do that together. For the time being we believe it’s safest to follow this guidance and hopefully limit the spread of this virus,” said Mr. Madsen.
So far, Sanata Barbara appears to be in compliance, but Mr. Madsen encouraged locals to respect the orders as violations can result in hefty fines. In Monterey, the Forest Service has seen plenty of Californians disregard the orders in place there.
“They’re trying not to write citations but they wrote more than 300 warnings for people. That’s Monterey and that’s roads and trails, but people are either not getting the word or choosing to disregard that,” said Mr. Madsen.
“We really need folks to follow this. We don’t take this lightly, closing any part of the forest, but these are difficult times. If we all work through them together we’ll get these places reopened as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
If locals do plan on taking advantage of Santa Barbara County’s trails, the Forest Service asks that you remember that no trash removal is currently offered, all toilet facilities are currently closed, and to avoid high-risk activities as law enforcement and search and rescue operations may be limited.
For a full list of closures and trails that remain open, as well as contact information for the Santa Barbara Ranger District office, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/lpnf/alerts-notices/?cid=stelprdb5307964