It can happen quickly. One person or group walks off a designated trail, tramples native grasses and vegetation, and leaves an informal path that others are more likely to follow.
“It’s a compounding problem,” says Jill Sprance, Field Operations Manager at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy. “Unmarked or social trails are bad because they fragment habitat, kill plants, and get worse as more people use them.”
Additionally, social trails are often formed in direct lines up or down hillsides—instead of the typical switchback pattern of designated trails—which allows water to run straight downhill and cause harmful rutting and erosion. With the help of Trail Crew volunteers, the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Field Operations Team uses a range of tactics to remove unauthorized trails including planting cactus, shrubs, and grasses to cover the trail and roping off unauthorized trails. Recent trail rehabilitation efforts have been completed in the City of Irvine’s Bommer Canyon in the Irvine Open Space Preserve, and Changala’s Pass along Loma Ridge, which is part of the City of Irvine Open Space Preserve too.
One key to making sure you’re on a designated trail is to look for signs. “If you think you’re on a trail, but there’s no sign designating it as a trail, it’s not a trail,” Sprance says. “No sign equals no trail.”