By Raiza Giorgi

Los Padres National Forest officials announced that campgrounds managed by concessionaire will remain closed through June 1 in an effort to remain consistent with state and local health guidelines that promote safe social distancing and discourage large gatherings, however that isn’t stopping people from going to enjoy the day-use areas and walking beyond the closed gates to enjoy the Santa Ynez River. 

The bathrooms have been locked and the trash hasn’t been collected since just after the Governor issued the Stay-At-Home orders on March 13. For more than a month, garbage has been spewing into the areas near the trash cans and dumpsters, according to locals in the area. 

Photo by Laura Mancuso

“The toilets have been locked up because the Day Use Area is “closed” but dozens of people are visiting. Human feces and used diapers have been found in the brush,” said Laura Mancuso, who owns a recreational cabin in the area. “Visitors leave trash near the overflowing bins anyway, which gets scattered every night by wild animals.”

Mancuso and other volunteers have been out on multiple occasions picking up trash with PPE provided by Rancho Oso, but it barely makes a dent she said.  

“We have had two major clean-up days, and we have posted signs in English and Spanish begging people to use the 40-yard roll-off dumpster or take their trash home with them,” Mancuso said. 

The Star went Mother’s Day weekend to Paradise and Red Rock areas where the gates were closed to cross the river, and cars were packed in, some in and along the roadway making hazardous conditions. People were spaced out once they were at the river, but the bathrooms were locked so some people used the bushes to relieve themselves. 

The Star reached out to the USFS Los Padres division to ask why wouldn’t the forest service be responsible for collecting trash and cleaning bathrooms if their subcontractor isn’t able to. The Star also asked why the camp sites couldn’t be used for day-use only to get people to park further away. Also where signage is posted telling people there is no trash or restrooms available, because the Star didn’t see any. 

“I think the Forest Service wants the “local communities” to be able to use trails and day use areas, but the campgrounds would bring in visitation from many different areas (mostly non-local),” said Jennifer Gray, public affairs for the Los Padres National Forest. 

Gray then directed the Star’s questions to Andrew Madsen, the public information officer, who has yet to get back to the Star. 

Santa Barbara County has kept their recreation sites open such as Lake Cachuma, and while no camping is allowed, people can use those camp sites for day-use to keep their distance and the bathrooms are still available. Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said the county has no jurisdiction over what the State and Federally managed areas do, when questioned by the Star on Friday, May 15. 

“We are working with our state and local partners to determine the best path forward to safely reopen these closed sites. Please keep health, safety and the environment in mind when visiting National Forests. Your personal responsibility is critical to ensuring public safety and preventing further restrictions. Visitors are encouraged to recreate in areas close to home and avoid traveling long distances. We appreciate your cooperation in keeping our national forests safe and healthy for everyone’s use,” in a statement sent to media outlets.