Rugged Hellhole Re-opens

By Michael Burge, Staff Writer - April 23, 2004

VALLEY CENTER – The county parks department has reopened Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, which was closed after the Paradise fire blackened the 1,700-acre park.

That leaves only five county parks still closed of the 23 affected by October’s wildfires, parks and recreation director Renee Bahl said yesterday at a ceremony marking the reopening.

California Conservation Corps crews spent the past two weeks clearing 1½ miles of the 11½ miles of trails in the rugged park on Valley Center’s eastern edge.

"There was a lot of erosion," said CCC crew supervisor Brian Lussier, describing knee-deep ruts in the trail.

He said the workers also cut dead trees away from the trail, to make it safe for horseback riders.

"It would have broken your heart to see the flames the day of the fire," said Rick Landavazo, president of the Friends of Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve. "There were flames 300 feet high."

County Supervisor Bill Horn attended yesterday’s event to thank Pardee Homes for $40,000 it contributed to the preserve. The money will help pay for a small amphitheater and signs telling about the park and the effects of fire.

The park is largely wilderness and had few improvements, but Landavazo said the park sign, hitching posts, some campgrounds with picnic tables, and a small public area marked by old telephone poles burned.

Parks officials said the Federal Emergency Management Administration and insurance are expected to pay much of the costs of repairing fire damage. They estimated 100 to 200 people visited the park monthly.

Landavazo said the next three years will provide an unusual opportunity for park goers to witness the effect of fire on chaparral. Native plants that normally are overshadowed by larger plants will sprout and bloom in the open land.

Landavazo said his group will resume its hikes, which are held the third Saturday of every month.

"We’ll be focusing on the role of fire . . . in our Southern California chaparral," he said.

The Friends of Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve is also hoping to get a state grant to buy 155 acres in the heart of the canyon, to add to the preserve.

Parks officials said Volcan Mountain Open Space Preserve will reopen Wednesday.