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Aspen Grove Trail Recovers

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Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Fish Creek, Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow Nat’l Monument (10/5/18) Alena Nicholas

Steve Alarid’s prediction, stated three years ago,  that “Aspen are going to dominate this area for the next 50 years,” appears to be happening along Big Bear’s famous Aspen Grove Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

The USDA Forest Service representative was commenting following the 2015 Summer’s Lake Fire that incinerated parts of San Bernardino National Forest. Coniferous trees had then been turned into leaning, blackend staffs and calf-deep ash, but unseen beneath the gray surface aspen survived.

Scott Eliason, Mountaintop Ranger District Botanist said, “as would be expected of aspen, which are known to recover well following fire,” those in this grove, which became part of the Sand to Snow National Monument designated by President Obama in 2016, “re-sprouted vigorously and have grown rapidly since the fire.”

“Aspen don’t do well in shade,” Eliason continued, “So the grove is actually in better shape now than before the fire when there were a few large white fir and other conifers shading parts of the grove.”

San Bernardino Mountains color spotter Alena Nicholas hiked to the grove on Friday, reporting that densely packed young aspen have pushed up in a reinvigorated stand along a 300-foot section of Fish Creek. Living aspen are now up to ten feet tall and as short as three feet.

Nicholas said the bare, blackened trunks of cremated conifers and the ghostly white skeletons of aspen provide a gothic visage and a surrealistic contrast to the vibrant green, lime, yellow and orange aspen.

Through this scene, the fresh waters of Fish Creek spill and twist, feeding shoreline grasses and willows that boast peak golden color. Alena described it as “uniquely beautiful … with old and new blending as one.”

Presently, Aspen Grove Trail can be reached only by hikers, as hazardous tree removal continues along the Forest Road.

To get to the grove, exit CA-38 at Coon Creek Campground onto Forest Road 1N02. Continue on 1N02 to Heart Bar Campground. Near there, the Forest Road is gated and the only way to continue beyond the gate is to hike 1.4 miles uphill.

A free permit is required for all wilderness trails, and can be obtained at the Barton Flats Ranger Station on Hwy 38 six miles west from the Heart Bar Campground.

Zach Behrens, spokesperson for the USDA Forest Service, urged caution when hiking to the grove along the Forest Road. “Hikers must do so at their own risk and be watchful of logging and vehicles along the road,” he warned.

Parking for about six cars is available near the gate; the same number will be available near the grove, once the road is reopened.

No date for reopening of Forest Road 1N02 to the Aspen Grove Trail has been announced, though it will not happen until after the aspen are Past Peak, this autumn.

Presently, the grove varies from Patchy to Near Peak, depending on location. It will Peak within the coming two weeks.

Nicholas said there was plenty of color to be seen yesterday, though “a few of the trees along the creek have started to drop their leaves” due to recent winds. Black oak not destroyed by the fire are also beginning to show orange color.

If Steve Alarid’s prediction continues to hold, we’ve got another 47 years to see aspen as the dominant tree in this part of San Bernardino National Forest. 

Aspen Grove Trail, Sand to Snow National Monument, Big Bear (7,150′) – Patchy to Near Peak (10-75%) GO NOW!
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