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People are sneaking into closed Garrapata State Park, despite wildfire devastation

Garrapata state park going Rouge

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - The Soberanes fire burned more than 132,000 acres of land, destroyed dozens of homes and the livelihoods of local businesses and community members. It all started in Garrapata State Park.

"It started with an illegal ground fire back in the Soberanes Creek portion of that area in a closed area," said James Bilz, State Parks Superintendent, California State Parks Monterey Sector.

In its wake, the fire and this year’s winter rainstorms have caused a great deal of devastation to the park, which is considered the crown jewel of Big Sur.

"I like the openness and the expansiveness,” said David Monkarsh of Irvine, CA.

Portions of the scorched east side of Garrapata are now littered with downed trees, demolished trail systems and mudslides.

"Unfortunately we just don't have the crews to put towards repairing that damage,” said Bilz. “Our efforts have been getting Big Sur, Pfeiffer the campground back reopened and the trail structure within that campground.”

State park officials said they have done initial assessments of the damage, which will cost millions of dollars to repair.

"We're working with FEMA," said Bilz. "We're following all the processes with FEMA and getting federal assistance for the damage of the trail."

Until then the east side of Garrapata remains closed. No hiking is allowed to keep people safe and let the land heal.

"I'm not happy,” said Lothar Walter from Germany.  “I come here from San Francisco to make a hike here and there's no possibility to hike."

Monkarsh is also a little disappointed. For the past 30 years he has come to Garrapata State Park every summer to hike. This year, he will have to see the east side of it from behind the fence.

"We gotta adjust, nature was pretty strong and powerful this year,” said Monarsh. “So it's time for people to adjust and respect the land.”

But not everyone feels that way.

"I want to go enjoy a nice hike you know how it is,” said Michael Espino of Salinas. “It's a nice area, it's summer."

Espino is one of the visitors who ignore the closed park signs and potential dangers and hike in Garrapata. 

"The risks that you take when you go hiking, it's not that bad,” said Espino. “As long as you’re safe and everything, aware of your surroundings."

In just one hour KION crews observed seven people sneak in. Austin Keegan said on the weekends and holidays, he sees a lot more.

"Last memorial Day, we saw, it was probably 12 hikers within a twenty minute period," said Keegan. 

Keegan is one of the founders of Friends of Garrapata, a community organization dedicated to the welfare of the park. They have put up signs and try to create awareness on social media to keep people safe and out of the east side.

"We get a lot of people that have never been out in a place like this and it's dangerous," said Keegan.

State parks told KION they patrol Garrapata on a regular basis.

"We really haven't seen the abuse, people going through the closure," said Bilz. “If they go in the closed area they will be subject to citation."

Which apparently, is not enough of a deterrent for some.

"It's a ticket, I can pay a ticket," said Espino.


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