As a 7-year-old girl remains hospitalized in critical condition after falling 30 feet from an unauthorized trail on Mt. Rubidoux, Riverside city officials warn hikers to stay on the paved path.
Though people regularly hike up the side of the mountain, cut the switchbacks and climb on the boulders, city officials say venturing off the trail creates two major problems:
It puts hikers in potentially dangerous situations because of poor footing and rattlesnake danger.
It causes erosion, preventing vegetation from growing which could potentially cause mudslides when rains arrive.
“It’s a huge issue for us,” said Riverside Parks, Recreation and Community Services Director Adolfo Cruz. “People going off the trails continue to cause more damage to the mountain, even though there are paved roads all the way up.”
The girl who fell was with her family when the incident occurred, Riverside Fire Battalion Chief Bruce Vanderhorst said this week. They were just past the bridge leading to the top of the mountain when they tried to take a shortcut, and the girl fell.
Riverside Fire Captain Tim Odebralski said so far this year, firefighters have responded to 15 medical emergencies at Mt. Rubidioux. That includes any kind of emergency, Odebralski said, from a twisted ankle to a serious fall.
Though the Fire Department doesn’t keep track of how many emergencies at Mt. Rubidoux are caused by someone going off the trail, Odebralski speculated that it accounts for about half.
“There are definitely slips, trips and falls, sprained ankles and other lower extremity injuries,” Odebralski said.
Two experienced hikers to Mt. Rubidoux said Friday that they always stay on the trails.
Larry Fish, 66, said he goes to the peak and back about every other day.
“I see people all over the place, and that can be very steep and be very slick, and I think that’s when people get hurt,” he said.
Victor Garcia, 24, hikes before and between classes at nearby Riverside City College.
He said going off trail doesn’t appeal to him “because the risk is greater than the reward.”
“It’s very easy to slip, especially when they have the wrong kind of shoes. You are here to have fun, not to come down on a stretcher.”
People have been known to get stuck on the northwest face of the mountain, Odebralski said, where people frequently scale up from Carlson Dog Park. In 2013, a man was rescued after spending days wedged between two boulders. He was trapped in an isolated section of the mountain.
The south side of the mountain is also an area people frequently hike off trail, Cruz said. Parks officials installed plastic markers in that and other areas warning people to stay on the trail, but many people ignore them and some have even broken some of the signs.
Cruz said some off-trail areas are so frequently trafficked that the erosion has created unsanctioned trails.
“When that really comes into play is during the rainy season, when there’s nowhere for the water to be absorbed and no vegetation so it just slides off the mountain and creates erosion and mud issues at the bottom,” Cruz said.
Riverside City Councilman Mike Gardner, whose ward includes Mt. Rubidoux, said the foot traffic has diminished vegetation growth along the mountain.
“With the drought it’s been difficult to get plants back on the mountain,” Gardner said. “This year was a little better because of the rain, but foot traffic definitely has a negative effect on plant life.”
The northwest side of the mountain, above the dog park, is one of the most eroded parts, Cruz said. Compaction by walkers has made the erosion worse, and orange fencing has been placed around some of the deeper ruts.
The Riverside Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department is working to address the issue of off-trail hiking on Mt. Rubidoux. At the end of 2015, Cruz said, the department received a $95,000 grant to make improvements to the mountain. The four “components” in the grant application were design/engineering services, trail repair, trailhead amenities and the development and installation of maps and interpretive and directional signs.
Though plans have not been set into stone on how the money will be spent, Cruz said one of the biggest repairs will be of the erosion on the firebreaks on the northwest side of the mountain – where people illicitly hike. The department is still taking proposals for the component pertaining to signs and maps.
In the meantime, the best thing people can do to prevent erosion on the mountain and to stay out of harms way is to continue to stay on the path, Cruz said.
“We would just ask that people respect the environment and stay on the paved trail,” Cruz said. “It’s a beautiful natural habitat and that’s why we want to protect it.”
~ I hope that you are safe and enjoy hiking Mt. Rubidoux. I have been hiking and walking these trails my whole life and try to take caution when there. Please do the same, but please stay on the trails, not only will you ensure your safety but also will ensure the conservation of the trails for the future ~