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Avoiding Damage to Wet Trails


Southern California is expected to see increased rain this winter, which will have a dramatic effect on local trails. While the flora and fauna need the rain, California’s record drought has left trail surfaces too dry to handle an abundance of rainfall. Even trails constructed to direct runoff into surrounding habitat will be overwhelmed by sudden rain after such a dry spell.

Landowners and managers are at the ready, prepared to evaluate potential storm damage and reduce long-term effects. However, trail users can help make sure rain damage is minimized by understanding wet trail conditions and abiding by closures to the trail system. 

Open space trails throughout the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks will generally be closed after on half-inch of rain. Visitors to parks open daily will see signs at the park entrance about trail closures, and docent-led activities will be canceled by the group leading the activity. It’s important to remember that these closures may extend past the actual rainfall, potentially up to three days. In the cooler winter months, the trails will take some time to dry out, and trails that may look dry at the trail head may travel over shady sections or dips that may still be muddy.

Once trails re-open, visitors can further help avoid damage by avoiding muddy spots. If a trail is mostly dry with only a couple of wet areas, landowners will usually open that trail to visitors. Also, if a trail is dry enough for foot traffic, the landowners may determine that it is not yet dry enough for mountain bike riders or equestrians. The tire track and horse hooves could leave more of an impression on a damp trail than individual footfalls.

After each rain, trails are assessed by landowners and trained trail personnel to evaluate the path’s ability to handle traffic. Trails are re-opened as soon as possible, and activities resume. Just remember that the rain is good for the land, and letting the trails dry is good for the long-term health of the trail system.