WHILE IT may
not be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack,
creating an inventory of every recreational site in the Big
Sur backcountry is certainly no easy challenge.
But that isn’t stopping a team of six volunteers from trying
to accomplish the task, which involves navigating about 300
miles of trails on steep terrain and visiting about 50
different backcountry campsites. The effort was organized by
the nonprofit Ventana Wilderness Alliance and is funded by a
$40,000 grant of taxpayers’ money from the National Forest
According to VWA executive director Mike Splain, the U.S.
Forest Service needs extensive information about its
backcountry trails and campsites so it can best determine how
to spend its limited resources on maintenance and
Big Sur’s backcountry can be a particularly unforgiving place.
Human “improvements” often don’t last long, as slides make
trails impassable, wildfires turn trail signs into cinders,
and the region’s famously dense vegetation swallows up
everything in its path.
Even the best cartographers have found themselves challenged
by Big Sur’s topography. Earlier this year, a VWA member found
more than 250 mistakes on a Big Sur map produced by National
Ideally, the forest service would conduct its own inventory of
backcountry sites. But budget and staffing constraints make
that impossible, Splain said. With the federal agency
undermanned, the VWA is becoming its eyes and ears in the
Ventana and Silver Peak wilderness areas, which encompass
about 270,000 acres. “They have a hard time getting boots on
the ground,” Splain told The Pine Cone.
Some backcountry campsites badly need work. For instance, Big
Pines Camp — which is located seven miles from Bottchers Gap —
no longer functions as a viable campsite because of the rapid
growth of chaparral surrounding it following the Basin Complex
Fire. “It used to be a beautiful camp,” Splain said. “But you
can’t camp there now. Every flat spot is covered with
ceanothus [also known as wild lilac], which has sprouted so
On the other end of the spectrum, Sykes Camp on the Pine Ridge
Trail gets too many visitors — and it shows. With so much
traffic resulting from its no-so-hot springs, the camp is
often trashed. And it’s also a fire risk. “We counted 70 fire
rings there on Memorial Day,” Splain recalled. “Most of those
A condition of the grant requires that the inventory project
to be completed by May, 2013. “I think we’re going to beat
that date,” Splain predicted.
With short days, long shadows and cool temperatures, winter
hardly seems like a great time to visit the Big Sur
backcountry. But Splain said the season does have its
advantages. “We want to do the work when nobody is camping,”
In addition to identifying where repairs and improvements need
to be made to campsites, Splain hopes the inventory project
will shed light on the small but growing number of people who
come to Monterey County to hike Big Sur’s backcountry — and
spend money while they’re here.
“There’s no good data on where hikers go,” Splain added. “How
many people are coming here to visit the wilderness? And can
we improve our resources? If we can learn more, it’s going to
be a benefit for the county.”
One of the six volunteers, Bryce Winter has launched a blog
about the project. Visit www.wildventana.org.