Winter is officially here in Orange County, and the past few weeks have brought some much-needed rain to the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks. Wet weather is a welcome change that helps flora and fauna on the Landmarks thrive, but it can also pose a challenge for trails. Landowners including OC Parks, the City of Irvine, and the City of Newport Beach work hard to evaluate potential storm damage to trails and keep trails fun and sustainable, but understanding how to minimize trail damage from a visitor’s perspective is vital to keeping the open space enjoyable and accessible when the sun is back out.
During cool and wet winter months, the trails take more time to dry out, and the closures may extend past the actual rainfall for up to three days following the storm. Trails that look dry at the trailhead can be misleading, because the trail may extend into shady sections of the land or through dips that collect more moisture. The muddy portions of the trail need time to dry out to ensure their longevity for public use.
Once trails re-open, visitors can further help avoid damage by steering clear of remaining muddy spots. If a trail is mostly dry with minimal wet areas, landowners will usually reopen the trail. However, it should be noted that if a trail is dry enough for foot traffic, the landowners could decide that the pathways are not suitable for mountain bike riders or equestrians. Tire tracks and horse hooves leave a more dramatic impression on the land than individual footfalls.
After each rain, trails are assessed by landowners and trained personnel to determine the path’s ability to handle traffic, be it by foot, bike, or horse. Trails are always reopened as soon as possible, and after re-opening all activities resume. It’s important to remember that rain is great for the land, ensuring a healthy and hydrated habitat. It’s also important to keep in mind that after the rains subside, it’s equally as important to let the trails dry out to promote the long-term health of the trail system, native plants, and local wildlife.
Take advantage of this current wet weather to plan your next adventure, and explore LetsGoOutside.org/activities for hiking, mountain biking, or equestrian programs in the future you’d like to attend. Most guided programs on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks are free and open to the public with required pre-registration. Participants must register for activities by 4 p.m. the day before the event. Visit LetsGoOutside.org for more information and for cancelation information.