Posted 4/1/12 – The CA State Dept. of Forests and Trails announced this morning that it will close the Mt. Wilson Trail following this year’s running of the Mt. Wilson Trail Race in May. The trail, which has been in use since the 1800s, has become too big a liability concern for the state according to a spokesman.
“We first became aware in 2008 following the April fires that numerous residents/citizens were spending a lot of time maintaining the trail. Following the fire, one of our employees happened to be reading about it on a local news site and saw photographs of people working to get the trail back in shape to run the race in June”, said Dept. of Forests and Trails spokesman Nomar Hyecking (Editor’s Note: the Trail Race was delayed following the April, 2008 fires until June 7th to allow volunteers to get the trail in safe enough condition to allow the race to go on). “We opened an investigation, and put it on the fast track, and that investigation is now complete. We were able to determine that there are numerous people who spend a part of their weekend each week clearing weeds and rocks off the path, trimming overgrowth from bushes and trees, even shoring up the side of the trail when erosion becomes an issue. These hikers are carrying equipment up the hill, shovels, hoes, McClouds, etc., which if not handled properly could cause injury to the hikers or to other hikers on the trail. Since these residents are not insured, that puts liability on the state that we are no longer in a position to be able to risk.”
Asked about the possibility of keeping the trail open, Mr. Hyecking responded that the only way that could happen is if the City and the State could work together to maintain the trail. “The California state budget is a mess, and our department has had to endure repeated cuts over the last few years. From what I understand, the City of Sierra Madre is also going through a budget crisis, and I just don’t see how we could replace the man hours that are done by the volunteers. Our investigation shows that there are literally more than 100 hours a week (the equivalent of 2.5 employees) put in by the volunteers, and we just don’t have the money to fund that kind of staff.”
When it was pointed out that the volunteers have maintained the trail for decades without a single reported incident of injury involving the volunteers or their equipment, Hyecking responded “Well, then we are obviously overdue, and we just can’t take that risk.”
Hyecking stated that because the Mt. Wilson Trail Race is the second oldest off road running race in the state, Assemblyman Portantino had been successful in petitioning to allow the cleanup to continue until the end of May. The Mt. Wilson Trail Race is scheduled to be run on Memorial Day Weekend. “The race has such a long tradition, we didn’t want to end it abruptly. We were also told by the City that there might be difficulty in returning the entry fee to the runners, as the money has already been spent stocking the City settling basins with rainbow trout for Huck Finn Days. So we hope everyone enjoys this last Trail Race.”
Asked how the Dept. intended to enforce the closure of the trail, Hyecking said that the CA State Office of the Architect is reviewing plans to erect a concrete gatehouse that would both block the trail and serve as a museum to the history of the trail. Cost of the gatehouse, which is to be designed in a “green” sustainable manner, is $1.6 million dollars, and a Request for Applications has been issued to recruit the two and a half employees that will be required to staff it.
Asked if he had any further comment, Mr. Hyecking replied “Yes, there is one other thing. When reading a story such as this, it’s always a good idea to check the date it was written. April Fools!”