2017-02-16 / Community

Wildwood: victim of popularity?

By Dawn Megli-Thuna

RAINY DAY HIKE—Mayra Ontiveros and Carlos Alcale, both of Oxnard, finish a hike Feb. 10 at Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks. Neighbors of the park say so many people visit the popular hiking spot on a regular basis that it's becoming a problem for those living close by. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers RAINY DAY HIKE—Mayra Ontiveros and Carlos Alcale, both of Oxnard, finish a hike Feb. 10 at Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks. Neighbors of the park say so many people visit the popular hiking spot on a regular basis that it's becoming a problem for those living close by. RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers Wildwood Regional Park is being loved to death.

That’s what Conejo Recreation and Park District General Manager Jim Friedl told a group of residents who came to CRPD’s Jan. 19 board of directors meeting to express their frustrations with the heavy volume of visitors to the hilly open space area in northwest Thousand Oaks.

According to the neighbors, traffic to the local hiking mecca is getting out of hand, forcing visiting vehicles onto residential streets and making a muddy mess of the parking lot and surrounding sidewalks, especially after the recent rains. Although the park is officially closed during and after inclement weather, hikers regularly ignore warnings and simply step over the gate in front of the parking lot to gain access.

And as with all parks, there are issues with drug use and other illicit activities at night.

“Wildwood is the best. Or the worst,” Matt Kouba, CRPD park superintendent, said in an interview.

Covering 1,732 acres, Wildwood Regional Park is the largest contiguous open space unit in Thousand Oaks, featuring 14 trails covering 17 miles.

The park is managed by the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency, which is jointly run by CRPD and the City of Thousand Oaks.

The issues

On a recent rainy Friday, four hikers from Simi Valley said the closed parking lot did not serve as a deterrent.

“There’s plenty of parking on the street,” said Cory Chase, 20.

One of his fellow hikers, 19-year-old Emily Anderson, said the four trekked to see Wildwood’s most famous feature, Paradise Falls, after the recent rains.

“It was great. The creek was full. But it was so muddy,” she said, as she wiped her shoes off on the curb.

Kouba said the muddy conditions are precisely why Wildwood is closed during wet weather. Since the soil is clay, it becomes soft when wet. If hikers or bikers tread on the clay before it dries out, they leave tracks that remain after it hardens, creating an uneven surface that can be difficult to traverse.

Park officials typically keep trails closed for a day after it rains to allow the clay to dry.

But with six full-time rangers to cover 150 miles of COSCA trails, enforcement is difficult, Kouba said.

And even on dry days, parking is a problem. Visitors often park in the neighborhood because the lot is usually at least two-thirds full on weekdays and packed on weekends.

Seeking solutions

As an alternative to the crowded dirt lot, Kouba said, visitors can access trails at Wildwood from the paved parking lot at Wildflower Playfields down the street and walk to trailheads via a tunnel that runs under Avenida de Los Arboles. Visitors can also park at Wildwood Neighborhood Park, which is three blocks east of the entrance to the regional park.

Thousand Oaks resident Kathi Vanderluit has lived in the Wildwood neighborhood for over 30 years. The retired school psychologist walks her two rescue dogs, Boogie and Bronco, by the park every day.

She said hikers ignoring park closures are a common sight.

“I think that’s sad. When we first moved here, it was rarely used. But over the years, it’s become so popular you can’t keep them out,” she said.

Vanderluit said the park’s overuse is a result of its natural beauty.

“We’re so lucky. Who gets to walk out of their front door and look at this exquisite view?” she said.

Kouba said hikers can enjoy views from other open spaces around the Conejo Valley as well. There are 14,000 acres of open space in the Conejo Valley, and the parks department would like to divert some visitors away from Wildwood, he said, and toward areas that are equally as beautiful.

As part of that effort, COSCA is promoting 10 open space areas as part of its 2017 Conejo Open Space Challenge.

From March 1 to May 31, hikers, bikers and equestrians are encouraged to use trails in Lang Ranch, Conejo Canyons, Dos Vientos and other open space areas. Participants can tweet photos to @COSchallenge or email them to conejochallenge@gmail.com to be entered into a prize raffle.

For more information, visit conejo-openspace.org.

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