To Our Ojai Community:

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we recover from the damage from the Thomas Fire on our trails. In the coming months trails will likely open and close depending on rain and changing trail conditions. Click here for current information and trail notifications »

River Closed, Trails Open

By on July 6, 2020 in News

Please note:
The pictures in this article are quite different from the ones we usually send to you and would not be appropriate for a Zoom background! 

We need your help!
Overuse and misuse are threatening the lands we love. We are not here to point fingers, but to ask you to help us address these problems together:

1. Trash
2. Community/Social Trails
3. Destruction of the River Habitat

If you have been out to the Ventura River Preserve recently, you very likely will have seen Director of Field Programs Brendan Taylor hard at work. Protecting the lands we all love is usually a behind-the-scenes labor of love, but right now Brendan (and the entire OVLC) needs your help.

I recently got Brendan on a conference call to ask him how things are looking on the Ventura River Preserve, and more importantly, to ask him what the community can do to help. Highlights from our conversation are below.

Director of Field Programs Brendan Taylor takes a break from the field to talk to me, Development Associate Xena Grossman. 

What is going on at the Ventura River Preserve?

The Ventura River Preserve is seeing unprecedented use! The Thomas Fire changed the hydrology of the river and the Ventura River is flowing year round, something that hasn’t happened in decades.

We are thrilled that so many people are seeking solace in nature, and are proud that we have been able to keep the trails open throughout the COVID-19 crisis. For those of us who are lucky enough to live in Ojai, the value of these open spaces and access to trails has never been clearer. To all the visitors that the Ojai economy relies on, we welcome you to our preserves and are happy to share the beauty of Ojai with you. But now, the river and the river bottom lands need your help.

This sounds great. Why is it a problem?

Back in 2003, the community came together to help purchase the 1,600 acre Ventura River Preserve to protect it from development. It is hard to imagine now, but this wild area, which is home to black bears, mountain lions, ringtails, badgers and more, was slated to be developed as a luxury community with an exclusive golf course.

Now, we again need your help. Overuse and misuse are threatening the very resources that we worked so hard to protect two decades ago. This is not the time to point fingers, rather as a community we need to come together to address these problems:

1. Trash
2. Community/Social Trails
3. Destruction of the River Habitat

Left: Human feces on the Ventura River Preserve. Right: We closed the trash bins for safety’s sake, yet people pile up trash instead of taking it with them.

Trash – oh the mountains of trash
When we decided to keep the preserves open, we knew that trash bins would be high contact surfaces and therefore potential spreaders of COVID-19 (directly creating increased risk for our staff), so we took the unusual step of asking preserve users to take their trash with them. As you can see, people have blatantly been ignoring these signs, even forcing open bins that we nailed shut. Instead of maintaining trails, we have been tasked with picking up trash, human feces, punctured floatation devices, beer bottles, used baby diapers and more.

Left: The streambank along the river is eroding due to the trampling of plants on social trails. Right: Undoing social trails is hard work. Native plants don’t grow in compacted soil.

Community/Social Trails – they sound nice, but they are not!
The OVLC is very conscientious in where it places trails, trying to minimize the environmental impact of our presence in nature. The Ventura River Preserve is a hot and arid ecosystem, and therefore it is very fragile. Every trail we build takes the place of native plants and animals. Unfortunately, every day we find new trails down to the river. Native plants are tough and can survive drought, but they don’t grow back after being trampled. Similarly, once people walk on a trail, the soil becomes compacted and native plants will no longer thrive there, and water runoff becomes a problem.

We can’t forget that this river is essential for the survival of many animals. We need to leave most of the river pristine so that we don’t disturb the incredible animals that call the Ventura River home. Do your part by staying on the OVLC sanctioned trails.

Left: Floaties, BBQs, shade structures and more. How many people can you count at the river? Right: Human built rock walls artificially alter the flow of the river.

Destruction of the River Habitat
There are so many things wrong with the images above. The Ventura River Preserve is NOT a water park. Rather, it is a place where humans can enjoy nature, not misuse it.

When you move a rock, be it from the land or the river, you are destroying the home of insects, reptiles, or other small animals. When a rock in the river is moved, aquatic insects can fall, be crushed, drift away, or dry out and die when the rock is placed out of water. The seemingly small impact of moving one rock is amplified when hundreds of rocks are moved to create rock dams. The loss of these small animals impacts animals further up the food web. These dams also alter the stream flow, which is particularly disruptive as the river begins to dry up and water no longer flows freely through the channel.

Similar to the issues with social trails, spreading out along the river is destroying the important plants that grow there. When plants that line our stream banks and river bottom are crushed, habitat is destroyed, shade for pools and animals is lost, erosion is accelerated, and the flow and filtration of the water is changed. The nature of the sandy soil makes it hard for these plants to get established and easy to destroy.

What is the OVLC doing to address the situation?

The OVLC is once again closing the Old Baldwin, Oso and Riverview Trailheads until further notice and has closed the river. People are welcome to hike, ride and bike on the trails (please stay off the community/social trails), but hanging out in the river is not allowed. We have hired a security team to help enforce these rules. People will not be allowed to bring coolers, chairs, flotation devices, BBQs, etc… onto the preserves.

What can you do to help?

This is your land, and we need your help to keep it pristine. Please follow all posted rules, and respect trailhead and river closures. Please report any violations that you see to our security team.

Also, if you see something, say something. It took the community to protect the preserve from the threat of conversion. It’s now time to act as a community to help with the stewardship of the Ventura River. Please help us remind all just how fragile a system the river is.

  • Stay on the marked trails
  • Stay out of the river (except where OVLC sanctioned trails cross the river)
  • Pick up trash (if you have the equipment needed to do so safely)
  • Don’t make dams across the river, and please notch the ones you see
  • Be a role model, encourage others to follow your behavior
  • Donate to help fund our security

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