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A number of email lists and web forums have posted stories on one or more variations of the theme "Soquel Forest is Threatened!" Well, here's the word on Soquel Forest. Soquel Demonstration State Forest is owned by the State of California, and managed by CDF, aka CalFire, as a working, timber producing forest. It is not a park and not subject to the use and management restrictions found in California State Parks. Unfortunately, as CDF is a state agency, its operations are heavily impacted by the awful state of the CA Budget process.
Soquel Forest has experienced some of the worst reductions in funding in its history in recent months, and after several years of budget cuts, this is a real blow. Longtime Forest Manager Thom Sutfin retired, and his position is being left unfilled. Their seasonal forestry aids are being let go for the winter and perhaps indefinitely. This leaves CDF with one full time Assistant Forest Manager (Ed Orre), and a half-time Office Assistant. So they basically are having to deal with something like an 80% staff reduction from their 2006 levels.
Ed Orre cuts an angled edge into a future technical trail feature, Feb 21, 2009
Recently, the parking lot has been the scene of raves, drunken slob fests, vehicular breakings and other unsavory behavior. The porta potty was recently knocked over and damaged, right before a senior CDF forester came to inspect a timber harvest area planned for the Redwood Empire land next door to the forest. The porta potty, incidentally, has been 100% paid for by Specialized in Morgan Hill for something like 10 years now. At any rate, it got knocked over by the gate, and its tank contents spilled right next to a small tributary to Soquel Creek. The parking lot doesn't belong to CDF, it belongs to Redwood Empire. CDF has a deeded road easement through it for access to the forest, but use as a parking lot has been negotiated. And Redwood Empire wants to do a small harvest in the area uphill of the parking lot, and use the lot for its trucks during timber harvest operations. Hence, the inspectors.
So now they are talking about closing the lot and chaining off the road at the bridge, which would require visitors to park on the side of Highland Way. Not in itself such a huge deal, but with all the break-ins, the road is a lot less secure. And the inspectors also have concerns about the sediment runoff from the parking lot, which has become of increased concern since Coho Salmon fry have been found for the first time in Soquel Creek this spring, in addition to the established Steelhead Trout populations, making the creek health super important for these threatened and endangered species. One possible way to address this is to build in some bio-swales to collect runoff and allow silt to settle out before the water drains into the creek.
Ed and Stewards of Soquel Forest volunteer crew leader Scott Robinson inspect the approach to the finished log ride
CDF has also been planning a timber harvest for the north side of Soquel Creek, in an area called Fern Gulch, and after almost 10 years of planning it is nearly ready to be approved. It is likely they will start harvesting operations in the Spring. In addition, they are doing the preliminary work for a harvest on the south side of Hihn's Mill Road, probably involving trees on either side of Tractor Trail. Tractor Trail is actually an old road, and the road bed is in moderate to good condition, with the singletrack snaking down the center of it. While the plan is not complete, it may involve re-establishing the road, which would destroy the singletrack characteristics of this trail. Ed believes that they can incorporate a new parallel trail with true singletrack qualities (like the upper parts of Corral and Sawpit) into the post-harvest site remediation plan, but it seems likely that we would lose access to Tractor Trail during the harvest, and kiss its long-known narrow feeling curves and dips goodbye. Since many of us are just really unhappy with these kinds of changes, this news is fairly disturbing. And we don't know what this new trail would really be like.
One other thing related to the timber harvests is that CDF will be conducting tours of the harvest operations. Our trail use and trail impacts will be more closely observed than usual, and by people with strong environmental interests. Keeping the trails in really good shape will be imperative so that our use of the forest will not create any concerns that could impact our access.
The Stewards of Soquel Forest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was formed in 2000 during the effort to prevent the closure of the illegally-built Braille Trail. This organization is responsible for maintaining the trails in Soquel Forest, and has been working closely with CDF over the years to put in many of the improvements you've seen on the trails of this amazing riding destination. Well, like many other non-profits, it's seen varying levels of commitment and enthusiasm, and right now could really use an infusion of new blood and leadership to help it fulfill its role in keeping Soquel Forest and awesome place to ride. We are looking for people who could help lead trail maintenance crews, help with patrolling the forest through the NMBP program, and help with other functions, such as updating and managing its website, renewing memberships, and planning the annual year-end volunteer appreciation party and shuttle fest.
Patty and Charles, along with Daryl, Scott, Shane, Nigel, and others, are very active in the Stewards. If you would like to get involved, please shoot an email to Patty at firstname.lastname@example.org, and ask to be put on the Stewards list for future notifications. Also, stay tuned for trailwork dates that are being set now for this fall and winter.