Fire-Scarred Area Reopens for Recreation

Times Staff Writer

The Silverwood Lake area in the San Bernardino Mountains is a place where destruction is often followed by renewal.

For decades, the area was home to the small town of Cedar Springs, founded by homesteaders before World War I. But most of the town was flooded in 1972 when the California State Water Project built a dam there. That project created Silverwood Lake, which ever since has been a popular recreation spot and one of the few freshwater lakes in Southern California where swimming and boating are allowed.

Then in October, the Old fire raced through the area. It burned 75% of the Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area, closing it for nearly eight months, and destroyed the last of the Cedar Springs buildings.

The state park reopened last weekend and is expected to quickly get back to drawing half a million visitors a year.

But they will see a different landscape.

"They're going to find it a lot more open as far as the views and vegetation are concerned," said state parks district Supt. Gary Watts. "They're going to see a lot of burnt vegetation, but ... they're going to see that a lot of that vegetation has sprouts and new growth.

"So we're on our way to recovery," he said, "and the park has already started the process of renewing itself."

To get ready for visitors, state parks employees, contractors and volunteers have spent this year digging out roads from under as much as six feet of silt, chopping and removing 880 trees, and clearing debris from the lake. Officials also dredged silt from the West Fork of the Mojave River and re-channeled a stretch of Sawpit Creek, which had jumped its banks and moved 30 feet to the east.

The fire, flooding and persistent drought have also affected the animals of the forest, including mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, California black bears and deer, said Paul Pettit, a supervising ranger.

"Most of the wildlife is not a direct threat to human activity," he added. "However, with the loss of food, we know this wildlife has been in the park feeding with no humans around."

Because of that, he suggests that visitors travel in groups of four or more through rugged areas.

There may still be logs and other materials in the water, Watts said, although a contractor removed much of the debris. Swimmers and boaters should be aware of newly created shallows and sudden drop-offs.

"We hope that people have a better understanding of the natural world and how it can be changed and renewed through a process like wildfires," Watts said.

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