Mandatory Forest and Trails Closures, and Montecito Hot Springs Monitoring

By Joanne A Calitri   |   March 7, 2023

After receiving a report of five cameras being placed around the Montecito Hot Springs areas and several agencies unaware of their presence, Montecito Journal reached out to local authorities for answers regarding the cameras. The response received was concerned with the current mandatory closure of the local forests, trails, and recreation areas to the public, and the issue of monitoring debris flow and vandalism at the Montecito Hot Springs and its trails.

The core issues are to maintain public safety during these times of unheralded weather conditions not noted since 1969, which are prevailing and competing with remedial work, and the regulations surrounding the Montecito Hot Springs and trails.

Lieutenant Ugo “Butch” Arnoldi responded:

“As mentioned in a phone conversation, last month we received a call reporting several people being observed jumping over the fence and gate at the Hot Springs Trailhead by neighborhood residents. USFS Law Enforcement Officers responded, as well as the Sheriff’s Office. While at the Hot Springs County Park Trailhead Parking Lot on East Mountain Drive, a concerned citizen and Montecito resident arrived on scene and contacted law enforcement on site. They – having knowledge of the past, as well as current problems involving that trail access which is posted ‘Closed by USFS Forest Order,’ and the history of people diverting the water flow from the natural creek to form new pools, as well as vandalizing the water pipes that run through that watershed – asked if Forest Service would be interested in them installing trail cameras on United States Forest land to monitor not only the water and debris flow, but to possibly capture the illegal activity of persons diverting the water, as well as damaging water lines. 

The two Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers said that would be a welcomed proactive enforcement tool. The citizen was told that the cameras must be within the USFS Forest Boundary and not to display any logos, et cetera. 

Unfortunately, the cameras were placed with both the Sheriff’s Office logo and County of Santa Barbara Public Works logo on a tag attached to each camera, which drew attention from citizens who made the inquiry as to why they were placed at this location, rather than display the USFS logo who authorized their placement. As soon as objection to their placement was received, they were all removed by County Public Works staff and the owner of the cameras.”

MJ also spoke with Daryl Hodges, SBC District ranger U.S. Forest Service, who had this to say concerning the cameras and current closures:

Q. What area of the Montecito Hot Springs  and trails is under the U.S. Forest Service?

A. Basically, there are a couple of trails that lead to the hot springs. The Montecito Hot Springs trail and the adjoining parking lot are not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service, it is under the jurisdiction of the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department. 

Once a person crosses onto the forest boundary where the hot springs are located, this area is under Forest Service jurisdiction. The actual location of the Montecito Hot Springs is not managed as a developed site by the Santa Barbara Ranger District, like the other campgrounds and forest areas. 

Those hot springs have been there for over 100 years, and they’re known throughout Montecito and people hike to the springs. What has occurred over the years is that some community members have built soaking tubs without authorization that have not
been permitted. 

The hot springs area popularity has increased since the recent COVID-19 pandemic and through social media. 

What is the current Forest Closure Order status and what can the public do to help?

What has occurred as of late due to storm damage is that the Los Padres National Forest put into effect a Forest Closure Order to close the forest to the public until March 14, 2023, to do storm damage assessment on our roads, our trails, our recreation areas,
and our facilities. 

This is for the health and safety of the public and our personnel. In order to do the assessment, we have survey crews and large equipment moving around the area, and we just don’t need the public out there. 

We are asking and wanting the public to be patient while we work through the assessment process while going into the repair process for the roads, trails, and recreation sites.

Because the storm damage was so extensive and we are still getting rain and weather causing more damage, a lot of the sites may take longer than expected to be repaired.

We also had snowfall below 1,200 feet, and people want to come and play in the snow. We understand that, and at the same time we want everyone to respect the Closure Order for public health and safety.

The feedback that I have seen and is being reported is vehicles being stuck and cutting off roadways. This is serious, as our First Responders need to access all roadways and trails and can’t get to and through because cars are blocking the way. What I am asking is the public stay patient. 

I know this is something new, because I also have received reports from people calling saying they “have grown up and lived here all their lives, and every time it snows the forest never closes.” But we haven’t seen this type of damage and storm weather since 1969. It is a major weather event where we still have
storm damage.

We ask the public to stay patient while we work through this. 

Can you speak about the cameras that were placed at the Montecito Hot Springs area recently and now removed?

The SB Ranger District understands there were five cameras that were strategically placed along the hot springs, along the trail, and maybe along the creek, with some of the cameras focused and fixated on the hot springs themselves. Neither the Santa Barbara Ranger District, the Los Padres National Forest, nor I authorized or sanctioned the placement of the cameras. 

I have received rumors that the Forest Service approved those cameras. 

One needs a special-use permit to do anything in the forest. I did not authorize a special-use permit. 

The individual who volunteered to put up the cameras should have been directed to the proper agencies for a special-use permit before placing the cameras.  

Click here to access the free Los Padres ForestWatch Trails App for real-time trail closures, openings, and forest information


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