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Nordhoff Ridge Road Winter Closure
Notes from Phone Conference between Sue Exline and Tom Truax on Monday morning 1/13/2014
Sue Exline, the LPNF Ojai District Ranger returned my call regarding conditional access to the Nordhoff Ridge Road during the winter months for Hang Gliding and Paragliding. We spoke for a half hour covering a number of topics and what-if scenarios. Ms Exline apologized for the slow response to our inquiry. She has been doing double duty over the holidays working from the Frazier Park office since the Mount Pinos District Ranger left. Ms Exline lives in Santa Clarita, so her commute to Ojai is similar to the commute to Frazier Park.
Since 2005, the Forest Service has been closing some of the roads seasonally based on a number of factors without regard to a particular year's current weather. Prior to 2005, road closures were conditional, based on a number of current factors including moisture. Ms Exline explained that the LPNF implemented a Travel Plan as part of the September 2005 revision to the Forrest Service Land Management Plan.
The primary logic for closing the road for the entire winter season is budget related. The LPNF has less money to inspect and maintain the roads. There is also additional administrative cost in fielding public inquiry regarding the road status. Another reason for the seasonal closure is that the LPNF has reduced staff in the winter months due primarily to a large seasonal reduction in the fire crews. Currently, the Ojai District has 7 full time personnel, including 3 who work in the office and 2 field "Forrest Rangers", one who covers the back end up Hwy 33, and another who covers the front end from Hyw 126.
Ms Exline acknowledged that the Nordhoff Ridge Road winter access status was conditionally prior to the fall of 2005, but subsequently it has been closed for the winter season. Ms Exline was firm that she would not return to the pre 2005 policy of making the road status during the winter months conditional. She was also firm that she would not grant the glider pilots "special permission" because if she granted us permission, she would be pressured to grant all users permission.
Ms Exline did indicate that we could apply for a Special Use Permit similar to the permit the Topa Flyers had in the 1080s, but the current special use permit process is more expensive with numerous additional requirements to comply with the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act). Ms Exline did not evaluate the likelihood of an application being approved, but she did indicate that permits are based on commercial needs with fees based on revenue and the process is lengthy and costly. I responded that it is unlikely the current flying community would commit the resources required to successfully pursue a special use permit.
Subsequent to my phone conference with Ms Exline, I reviewed the LPNF 2005 Land Management Plan Revision documents. A limited Google Search for a LPNF "Travel Plan" did not return any obvious matches, but there was limited mention of Travel and Transportation in Part 2 of the LPNF Land Management Plan. On a side note, there is a photo of a paraglider with a caption in Part 2 of the LPNF Land Management Plan on page 26. The 2012 Monitoring Report (published in October 2013) shows the LPNF administered 72 Recreation Special Use Authorizations in 2012. See [Index] for links to the LPNF Land Management Plan]
Regarding the Budget. There is a graphic on page 19 of Part 2 of the 2005 revision of the LPNF Land Management Plan that shows a budget history for 10 years prior to 2002. The 2002 non-fire budget adjusted for inflation was about 15 percent lower than the high point in 1993, but the 2002 non-fire budget (adjusted for inflation) was about 25 percent higher than the low point in 1996. On average, the 2002 non-fire budget was higher than the 10 year average and the total budget including fire was at an all time high. If the 2005 decision to close the road was based on the 2002 ten year budget history noted in the referenced management plan, that decision is not supported by the budget history documented in the plan. It would stand to reason that the current budget is lower after the recession starting in 2008, but I was not able to locate a recent budget history via a limited Google Search.
Subjectively, it is my perception that the flying community is a very low impact user (with the exception of an occasional helicopter rescue). I think it is sinful to waste a valuable resource primarily because the cost of Administration has increased, however, we are miniscule compared to the many task needed to administer the whole LPNF, so with limited staff, it is understandable that management cannot allocate the resources needed to accommodate our interest. My review of the documents referenced by Ms Exline leads me to believe that the seasonal road closure is solely at her (the District Ranger's) discretion, but she is firm in her position. Ms Exline has many responsibilities and a better perception of her resources, so it would be difficult for me to mount a credible argument that we should continue to lobby for winter access even though I believe Ms Exline could simply make an executive decision to grant us access.
We could escalate the issue, but I don't have the bandwidth. Hang gliding has more logistical issues, so prior to the advent of Paragliding, the flying community was "tighter" by necessity and more inclined to mount a coordinated effort requiring expanded resources to attain group objectives. Our paragliding community size has expanded greatly, but local hang gliding population has declined by a factor of 2 or 3 with many in their 50s and 60s. Our current flying community composed mostly of paraglider pilots is not as tight as it was in the 90s when every local pilot from Ventura and Santa Barbara new almost all the other pilots. With fewer logistical issues to bind pilots together, our paraglider pilot community is more fragmented and less likely to work as a coordinated unit toward objectives that aren't shared but a broad swath of the flying community. Hang glider pilots and women are generally excluded from the Nuthouse due to the long steep trail, but the launch does accommodate the younger paraglider pilots.
So... it looks like we should continue to improve the Nuthouse Trail. As noted in other articles, the Nuthouse has it's issues, but all other hike up options that I have reviewed would be significantly more rigorous, except perhaps the knobs above Koenigstein Road, but I don't think Puckers is as dependable as the Nuthouse.