What is an unauthorized trail?
An unauthorized trail, also known as illegal trail or social trail, are trails made by humans over time with lots of usage. By people creating them, it kills vegetation, creates erosion, disturbs wildlife, and are not safe to hike or bike on.
Los Angeles Audubon has taken up a project to close 8 unauthorized trails at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. The whole process started last Summer of 2018 where we began identifying where these trails were. We mapped out the most used trails and the ones we felt still had a chance at restoring. We named these trails A through H. In these trails we were really interested in seeing who was using them and for what purpose.
This leads me into the second phase, creating survey sheets. After making the survey sheets we dedicated a month to collect this data. What we came to find was that most people using them were folks that wanted a tough workout that the main trails were not providing for them.
The third step was coming up with a plan on how to go about closing them if so many people were using them. We brainstormed for a few days and some of the ideas that came up were building a gate, planting on the trails, and making park signage. We all agreed that park signage would be the best choice but closing the trail could come right after that. We didn’t think planting on the trails would be good for a few reasons, one, people would trample them, two, the soil is too compacted from people stepping on it, and lastly, there are no water sources around to water them.
The fourth phase was making the park signage. Now, this step I think was one of the most important because we had to study existing signs and come up with a good way to reach park users. We had to think of many components: how we want to come off to people, what feeling do we want to give them, will this be a teaching moment or just a “do not do this.” We chose to go with a light-handed approach and instead of threatening the park user, we wanted to teach them. On our signs we asked people to stay on authorized trails then followed with the “why.” We stated that it was for everybody’s safety and it gives nature room to grow.
The fifth step was getting permission to add these signs to the park. This was the longest step because it is not easy to get permission from the city to do something so big like this. After a whole year of waiting we got the green light! We got the post made and placed them by the trails we were trying to close.
The sixth phase was then to physically close them. We put caution tape to block off trails and removed invasives to use as brush to cover the trails. By doing this the trails are no longer visible to park users as well as it being blocked off so people know to stay out. During this process we kept on surveying to see the difference in behaviors. We are currently working on this phase and soon we will be at our last phase, adding a fence to ensure these trails are no longer accessible to park users. With this project our hopes are to restore these trails back to how they used to be. We want to keep park users safe and help maintain a healthy habitat for wildlife.