Celebrating the salvation of Hellhole

PARK’S LUSH TRAILS READY TO REOPEN TOMORROW

By J. Harry Jones, Staff Writer, May 19, 2005

VALLEY CENTER – First fire closed a little bit of heaven called Hellhole Canyon, and then it was rain.

Come tomorrow, it will all be good again.

Burned manzanita plants provide a stark contrast with the wildflowers blooming in the distance at Hellhole Canyon County Open Space Preserve near Valley Center. “We’re feeding off Mother Nature’s recovery,” said Jake Enriquez, a county parks official.

Hellhole Canyon County Open Space Preserve in northeast Valley Center will open to the public tomorrow for the first time in five months.

Burned manzanita plants provide a stark contrast with the wildflowers blooming in the distance at Hellhole Canyon County Open Space Preserve near Valley Center. “We’re feeding off Mother Nature’s recovery,” said Jake Enriquez, a county parks official.

Hikers and equestrians once again can make their way down the canyon to Hell Creek, and the more adventurous can proceed up to the top of Rodriguez Mountain, with its sweeping panoramas.

Burned during the 2003 Paradise fire, the 1,700-acre preserve was closed for six months after the blaze. It reopened in April 2004 but was closed again in December when record rains washed out trails and the parking lot.

When visitors return this time they will not only be treated to new interpretive panels along the trail, they also will see lush flora growing as a result of the more than 22 inches of rain that nourished the area in recent months.

The interpretive panels explain the new vistas that have replaced the thick mixed chaparral lost when the fire swept through the area on Oct. 27 and 28, 2003. The plants replace fully grown vegetation that burned for the first time in more than four decades.

“We’re feeding off Mother Nature’s recovery,” said Jake Enriquez, a county Parks and Recreation district park manager whose territory includes Hellhole Canyon.

Jake Enriquez (left), a county district park manager, and Park Ranger Adam Stackhouse inspected a new interpretive display in the park, which will reopen after extensive trail repairs.

“This is a wonderful preserve, but I think some people hesitate to come out here because of the name,” Enriquez said.

The rain didn’t just wash out some areas along the 11½ miles of trails in the preserve; it also created massive gullies, some as large as 12 feet across.

“Some of the ruts along the trail were so big all three of us could have jumped in and disappeared,” Enriquez said.

Workers with the California Conservation Corps began reconstructing the trail in late February by hauling in 33 tons of granite, which was broken up and used as fill in damaged areas.

“They did all this by hand,” Enriquez said, pointing to one of the larger gullies that most visitors won’t even realize was rebuilt.

“This is hand-done, very talented work,” Park Ranger Adam Stackhouse said.

Enriquez said that before the fire, Hellhole Canyon “had just about every type of wildlife in San Diego County.” Since the fire, rangers haven’t spotted any deer or mountain lion tracks and say it might take years for the larger animals to return.

Smaller animals are making a remarkable recovery, and dozens of flower varieties that grow only after a fire has denuded an area have popped up this year. The creek, usually bone-dry by May, flows full through groves of oaks. Birds are everywhere.

A reopening celebration is scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow. The public is invited to view the restoration and see park improvements, including an amphitheater, a kiosk, concrete fencing and the interpretative signs. Some of the restoration was paid for with $40,000 contributed by Pardee Homes.

The celebration also will include recognition of the recent acquisition of 155 acres in the middle of the preserve. The purchase was approved by the county in March, using $430,000 raised by the nonprofit Friends of Hellhole Canyon. The parcel is bordered by the preserve on the west, east and north.