Social Distancing Now Mandatory on Montecito’s Trails

By Nick Schou   |   March 26, 2020
Ashlee Mayfield near top of San Ysidro Trail

Despite mounting fears over the COVID-19, aka the “coronavirus,” on March 24, the U.S. Forest Service officially declared that the extensive trail network in the hills above Montecito will remain open for recreational activities until further notice. The news came as a relief to Ashlee Mayfield, president of the Montecito Trail Foundation (MTF), in part because the group continues to work with the Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) to complete repairs to the trails, which were extensively damaged during the 2018 Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flows. (As the Montecito Journal reported last month, MTF and LPFA have nearly finished all the major trail restoration and had expected to be completely finished sometime in April.)

The San Ysidro Trail’s waterfall in action

“It’s a good thing that the Forest Service says the trails are still open, so they can be repaired as needed,” Mayfield says, adding that recent rains have added to the LPFA’s ongoing workload. (Mayfield also pointed out that the rains have finally produced enough flow for the San Ysidro’s trail’s typically dry waterfall to actually live up to its name). Although any work that is carried out on the trails is subject to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines on social distancing, Mayfield says that won’t impact the work. “The guys can work very far apart up there in groups of two or four for safety,” she explains. “It’s perfect, actually.”

That said, Mayfield worries that too many people on the trails may lead the Forest Service to reverse its decision to keep the trails open. She argues that it’s up to the general public using the trails to voluntarily adhere to CDC guidelines as well as practice common sense when they are out in nature. “Once you get out of your car, you have to think about social distancing from that very moment,” Mayfield explains. “And even before you get out of your car, if you see a lot of cars parked, maybe think about leaving and coming back later. Everybody wants to hit the trails at 9 or 10 am. Either come back later or go early to avoid crowds.”

Another important thing to keep in mind is not jamming up the trailhead. “Don’t gather at that narrow space where people are trying to get on and off the trail,” Mayfield advises. “The next thing is about passing: People should have room to pass – six feet of it – so step back off the trail and out of the way,” she continues. “Just don’t step into poison oak, because that will be an unwelcome surprise.”

Because of the coronavirus crisis, MTF has suspended all its regular group hikes, which usually meet at various trailheads each Friday morning at either 6:30 or 8:30 am. “Generally, meeting up in groups is not advisable,” Mayfield says, unless everyone in the group is symptom-free and from the same household. Mayfield also has a warning for parents who might feel inclined to let their kids hike alone. “We’re seeing some teenagers telling their parents they are going for a hike, and then meeting a whole bunch of other teens out there, which we really don’t want,” she says. “But if you follow all the rules, it’s a great place to be for a few hours, just to get away from the news and not check your phone.”


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