The months of December and January rocked the communities of northern Ventura and southern Santa Barbara counties. A wildfire raged through the hills and communities, tearing through areas that hadn't burned in almost a hundred years. It burned 281,893 acres, making it the largest fire in modern California history, and its seventh most destructive, destroying over a thousand structures, including a large apartment complex several blocks from my home, and two people lost their lives. You'll still find signs around the cities declaring "Ventura Strong", "Santa Barbara Strong", and "805 Strong."
Natural disaster struck again on January 9, 2018 at 3:30 AM in Montecito, a wealthy enclave east of Santa Barbara and home to celebrities like Oprah, Rob Lowe, and Ellen Degeneres. Heavy rain coupled with the destabilization of hillsides after the fire created a mudslide along the Montecito and San Ysidro creeks. The impact from the sudden slide was catastrophic: 21 people lost their lives, 129 residences destroyed, and the mudslide covered the 101 freeway. It was horrifying to watch events unfold, and I can't imagine the suffering the community went through and continues to heal from.
It's true that communities find strength and unity in disaster. I saw this during and after the Thomas Fire in Ventura. One of the ways Montecito is working together to recover is to clear and rebuild their trail system in the San Ysidro Creek Reserve, a popular hiking area for locals that eventually leads to a waterfall. Most of the trail is currently closed and will be indefinitely, but parts of the lower trail have been cleared, so we went to check it out.
We parked on San Leandro Lane in front of the municipal water building. There used to be a white picket fence here you had to go through, but that is no longer here. Evidence of the mudslide was immediately apparent: heavy machinery and large mounds of dirty everywhere. The trail at this point is the Ennisbrook Trail, and it eventually meets up with the San Ysidro Creekside Trail.
The trail follows the creek closely. Due to the heavy rains, vegetation was thick, especially volunteer species like poison oak. We also spotted nasturtiums, hummingbird sage, mustard, and California poppies. Large oaks provide plenty of shade making it a pleasant walk.
From the trail, you get glimpses into the yards of large, wealthy estates, but more interesting were the piles of debris dotting the trail: chair backs, BBQ grates, children's plastic toys were common sights.
We lost the trail at a little over half a mile in. One split appeared to dead-end at someone's property and the other split across the creek wasn't cleared yet.
Overall, I was impressed by how much work had been done in a relatively short amount of time. I can't wait to check it out later this summer to see the progress and maybe make it to the falls one day.