Although some of the Angeles Forest trails have been reopened, they come with warnings of multiple hazards.
After the Station Fire tore through the Angeles National Forest four years ago, hiking trails were destroyed, animals were misplaced and 161,000-acres burned. Now, environmental agencies are coming together to start a new push to rebuild this massive forest in L.A.'s backyard.
The Angeles Forest is full of hidden waterfalls and incredible peaks, said Edward Belden of the National Forest Foundation (NFF), but no one has been able to see some of them in years because trails have become “unusable”.
“So that’s really what the impetus is to do right now is really connect the trails together to establish loops that were existing. So they (hikers) can actually reach Condor Peak, or Strawberry Peak, which is one of the most loved hikes in the Angeles,” said Belden.
The 2009 Station Fire that tore through the forest, took almost two months to contain, killed two firefighters and damaged hundreds of homes and other buildings. It quickly became the biggest wildfire in LA County history.
The forest foundation has recently launched a focused effort to repair 20 to 30 miles of trail, so that hikers, cyclists and horse-back riders can resume to ride again.
Belden says about 80 to 90 percent of the Big Tujunga Canyon area was burned in the fire.
“A majority of that was actually burned really heavily so there was just denuded landscapes there, you would just see dirt mountainsides, all the shrubs were lost, the trees were burnt just leaving small little sticks in the air,” said Belden.
In addition to being a playground for people, the Angeles Forest provides L.A. County with more than 33 percent of its drinking water and more than 72 percent of its open space. And the NFF -- along with the L.A. Conservation Corps. and other environmental agencies -- are aiming to keep it that way.
Belden said they will be focusing efforts on popular trails including Trail Canyon, Grizzly Flat, Condor Peak and Strawberry Peak. Repair work includes putting in drainage to help control future erosion and trimming vegetation around the trails to make a path that's easier to maneuver.
A substantial part of the NFF's work will include removing fallen, dead trees from the trails.
Steve Messer, vice president of the Concerned Off Road Bicyclists Association (CORBA), said that even for the trails that have been reopened, there are hazards when it comes to using them. One of the biggest problems is dead trees. Killed in the fire, they’ve been rotting for years and may fall over under high winds or rainfall.
“Many many times over the past two years I’ve been out on trails one day gone back a week later and now there’s a tree down across the trail," said Messer.
Efforts to restore the forest have been going on for years, and gradually portions of the expansive area have been reopened. But Don Bremner, chair of the Forest Committee of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, said people can only do so much.
"Humans can repair damage to facilities and trails," he said in an email. "But most of the recovery of plants, trees and wildlife is done by nature. That takes anywhere from a few years to a few decades, depending on what kind of animal or plant."
Belden said intensive work is expected to continue on the trails over the next six months.