Trail fans defy closures at Crystal Cove State Park

Crystal Cove State Park’s 2,400 acres of hilly chaparral north of Laguna Beach have been closed since late December, when intense storms flooded canyons and triggered landslides that took sharp bites out of the trails leading to panoramic lookouts and primitive campgrounds.

But the “No Entry” signs and yellow caution tape blocking trail heads have not stopped hordes of trespassers from roaming the park’s 17 miles of backcountry trails on foot and on mountain bikes, making any attempt to respond to emergencies treacherous for park rangers.

On a recent weekday morning, Crystal Cove Supt. Todd Lewis parked his four-wheel-drive truck near a huge hole carved by torrential rains in a gravel road routinely used by rangers to patrol Deer Canyon campground, about two miles from the park headquarters.

“Beyond this point, it’s hopeless: If someone was in trouble down there and needed our help, there wouldn’t be much we could do for them,” he said. “Nonetheless, we’ve been getting dozens of trespassers in here every day.


“Over the past month,” he said, “we’ve issued dozens of citations for trespassing.”

Park officials hope to reopen perimeter trails this week. But most of the wilderness will remain closed as repair crews fix the damage to pathways explored by the estimated 11/2 million people who visit the park each year.

The full extent of the destruction was not known until flyovers were conducted last week in a helicopter provided by Airborne Law Enforcement Services, a program operated by the Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Newport Beach police departments.

Large chunks of trails leading through canyons to three remote campgrounds were buried in mud that had slid off the hillsides. Flooding had uprooted mature stands of black sage and monkey bushes, and gouged ruts more than 3 feet deep in gravel roads.


“We normally get about 12 inches of rain a year in Crystal Cove,” said state park environmental scientist Lana Meade. “In December, we got more than 9 inches of rain in just six days.”

Last week, as teams of California prison inmates and state park equipment operators driving earthmovers began rebuilding perimeter trails, Lewis spotted a pair of trespassers on the north end of the park who noticed him at the same time.

When Lewis confronted the man and woman, they sheepishly acknowledged that they had seen the “No Entry” signs posted at a nearby trail head.

“I’m not going to write you up this time,” Lewis told them. “But, please, mind the signs.”