North Coast parks are still grappling with major challenges from winter storms as sunny, dry weather forecast for this weekend has many locals preparing to hit trails and stake out prime campground spots.
From Mendocino County beaches to interior redwood sanctuaries and southward along Sonoma Valley highlands, fallout from an unusually wet winter is apparent at almost every turn.
Trails have been temporarily rerouted or closed in numerous locations from fallen trees or the ground giving way entirely. Seasonal openings of some campgrounds may be delayed, including along the Russian River, where a series of floods sent water flowing over the sites.
At Austin Creek State Recreation Area near Guerneville, crews this week have been scrambling to remove downed trees from public areas and make Pool Ridge Trail — a main access route to the backcountry — passable after the root ball of a large tree toppled during one of the storms carved a 4-foot-deep gash.
Crews have been feeling an urgency to get the work done because Austin’s main campground at Bullfrog Pond is expected to be full this weekend for the first time this year, with all 16 of the campground’s reserved sites taken.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Scott Lawyer, field operations manager for Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, said of current conditions. “I don’t blame them for wanting to come out.”
But Lawyer also confessed a weariness getting things spruced up for the start of the busiest visitor season.
“All I’ve been doing is cleanup the past two months,” he said. “The locals who hike the trails report trees down all the time.”
Park managers across the region are still determining the extent of damage and how they plan to pay for repairs.
At Jack London State Historic Park near Glen Ellen, part of an interior wall at the winery ruins crumbled after a stretch of rain undermined the foundation.
A large oak tree also toppled over near the House of Happy Walls Museum, but away from the historic structure, said Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of Jack London Park Partners.
“We walk gingerly around here because trees are coming down everywhere,” Van Wyk said.
She said repairs to the winery ruins and a section of Coon Trap Trail washed away by the storms will have to wait until after an extended period of drier weather.
Paying for the work is another matter. Van Wyk said the park saw 50 percent fewer visitors in February versus the same time last year — 3,000 people versus 6,000 — as a direct result of the storms.
“That’s less money to us in terms of park fees and earned income,” she said.
Van Wyk said disaster aid may help cover the cost of some repairs. But even in that scenario, she and other park managers may have to float money while waiting for reimbursement, putting more strain on their budgets.
Storm damage at Sonoma County Regional Parks is estimated at $176,000, according to Bert Whitaker, the county’s parks manager. The bulk of that amount — $100,000 — is from damage at two parks: Crane Creek Regional Park east of Rohnert Park and Shiloh Ranch Regional Park near Windsor.
At Crane Creek, storms washed out a culvert along Creek Trail near its intersection with Lupine Trail, forcing the trail’s closure there.
At Shiloh Ranch, officials recommend visitors avoid certain sections of Creekside, Ridge, South Ridge and Big Leaf trails because fallen trees are likely to impede access in some locations with steep topography.
Whitaker said crews can’t remove the hazards until drier weather.
“We’d do more damage trying to get equipment up there to fix it,” Whitaker said.
Along the Russian River, Steelhead Beach Regional Park reopened a week ago after floodwaters finally receded and crews were able to clear out debris. The water had gotten so high it inundated the park’s kiosk and restrooms.
Visitors will have to rely on chemical toilets for the foreseeable future until repairs can be made, Whitaker said.
Along the coast, many beach trails and campgrounds are included in the storm damage tally. That includes MacKerricher State Park north of Fort Bragg, where a main trail accessing the beach washed away.
“It’s a bummer,” said Mike Lair, acting superintendent of the park system’s Sonoma-Mendocino Coast District.
Lair said storm damages may delay the seasonal openings of Reef Campground at Fort Ross State Historic Park north of Jenner and Willow Creek and Pomo Canyon environmental campgrounds near Jenner along the Russian River. The campgrounds typically open by April 1.
But for those who don’t mind navigating a few detours and unexpected bumps along the trails, North Coast parks still beckon.
“All I can say is, ‘Be safe and enjoy our parks. That’s what they’re there for,’” Lair said.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @deadlinederek.