What is Soquel Demo Forest?
Known affectionately as ‘Demo Forest’ it is the best legal trail network in the Santa Cruz mountains. With rugged trails known as Braille Trail and Sawpit, advanced riders have a local destination where they can enjoy the sport and hone in their descending skills. And with the recent addition of the Demo Flow Trail in 2015, range and popularity of this trail network has expanded, getting a broader audience hooked in to the sport.
The forest is run by CAL FIRE, under the guidance of State Forest Manager Angela Bernheisel. And unlike Midpen and Marin trail networks where trails are paved, mountain bikers are hunted down with radar guns and issued $400 fines, CAL FIRE treats mountain bikers differently. Mountain bikers are treated with respect and given a voice and a stake in how Demo is managed and maintained. Large crews of mountain bikers are allowed to design and build trails.
The forest IS closed
On Jan 11, 2017, Demo Forest was officially closed to the public for the first time in recent memory. And on April 8, we verified with Bernheisel that it is still closed and will remain so for at least another four weeks.
We asked Bernheisel about the closure and she said the most crucial issue is rescue access.
“SDSF infrastructure has suffered major damage due to multiple landslides and road failures. This damage makes effective emergency response impossible. When SDSF is open for public use, the emergency response for major rescues averages about one per month with an additional one or two responses for less major rescues. With the current lack of access, it would be impossible to perform any rescue at SDSF and therefore must remain closed until access is restored. Entering SDSF during the closure is a misdemeanor under the authority of Title 14, Section 1439, California Code of Regulations. Law enforcement officers will continue to patrol the forest and will issue citations to violators.
SDSF staff is putting in place the required permits, contracts and funding to begin work as soon as the there is a dry period which could be as soon as next week. The repairs are expected to take 4 to 5 weeks. The forest will be reopened after repairs are completed. A notice announcing the reopening will be sent out as well as posted on the CAL FIRE Soquel Demonstration State Forest Facebook page, web page and CZU Twitter account.”
Angela Bernheisel – Demo Forest Manager
Ambulances and firetrucks are a normal sight in Demo Forest with 300-500 people using the trails on a busy weekend. But the major artery, Highland Road has been shut down by landslides for the last two months. And inside the Demo Forest network, the main dirt road, Hihns Mill has suffered a significant failure. It is the key access route to get injured riders out of Flow Trail or Braille Trail.
There are two helipads in the forest with occasional ‘air ambulance’ transportation utilized. But the CAL FIRE ground crews always have to reach the injured first, stabilize, make a determination and get the person to helipad.
Thus with no reasonable chance of helping an injured person in a reliable manner, Demo Forest cannot be responsibly opened to the public.
The California Winter of 2017
Why is this happening? Is this year’s winter that bad? In a nutshell, YES. The winter rains saturated the ground in November and December then in January, the rain apocalypse started. It rained pretty much every day for eight weeks sometimes with a trickle and sometimes with 4 inches of rain on a single day.
Folks kept saying ‘almost as bad as the deluge of 1982′. But by March, it became apparent that this is the highest rain total in the area in the last 100 years. Normally getting 20, maybe 30 inches of rain for the whole year, Demo Forest has gotten 89 inches of rain in the last 5 months.
This much rain is not normally this destructive in areas that are used to it. But in the Santa Cruz mountains, the drainage and soil quality simply cannot stand this deluge specially when it comes day after day. The ground has given way hundreds of times and mud and rocks from the hillsides come crashing down to houses and roads. Worse yet, the ground beneath the road collapses and destroys the infrastructure above it.
The Santa Cruz mountains have suffered hundreds of mudslides. One of the most significant failures is the Highway 35 collapse near Los Gatos where a 100 yard section of road and hill has disappeared.
Even the fabled Highway 17 suffered hundreds of mudslides and it’s been closed dozens of times, in a single week! Savy commuters are normally able to deal with the closure by taking one of about ten alternate routes to get back home. But this year at times all alternate routes were shut down.
What about the Demo Forest Trail itself
Demo Forest Trails are in a varied state of disarray with mudslides and downed trees. Aside from the prodigious amounts of rain, uncharacteristic high winds hammered the area dozens of times, knocking down hundreds of trees. And since the road to Demo Forest have been blocked, work crews have been unable to get in there to clear it up.
There are several mudslides but the most significant one seems to be in Hihns Mill fire road, the main exit route out of the park. The ground above, underneath and below the road have been compromised and is unstable with a new round of April storms.
The Sea Otter Classic Armada
The Sea Otter Classic is a bike festival held in Monterey on April 20-23 and attracts around 50,000 people from around the country and the world. Many have heard about Demo Forest and they usually reserve a day to ride it and experience the trails.
This is a huge problem this year as many out-of-towners are unaware of the closure. It is imperative that we spread the word that Demo Forest is closed and is not available to ride.
Demo Forest has been extremely good to mountain bikers so we need to respect the closure and spread the word. Besides, it is a serious crime, a misdemeanor to enter the forest during this closure.
CAL FIRE Soquel Demonstration State Forest Facebook page @CALFIRESoquel
CAL FIRE CZU on Twitter @CALFIRECZU
SDSF Webpage at calfire.ca.gov/resource_mgt/resource_mgt_stateforests_soquel