• Big Sur Mudslides: Devastating fire left no protection against winter rains

    By The Consonant Cowboy

    By the second week of April, most folks in Big Sur thought the mudslide threat had passed. River Inn had already removed the heavy concrete barriers – K-rails they are called – from in front of their establishment. But at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, the barricades in front of Big Sur Lodge stayed put at the insistence of park maintenance. And that was darn lucky.

    Tuesday, April 7 brought morning rains that heralded the beginning of spring. However, by lunchtime it became apparent that Nature was not paying a friendly visit. Muddy waters from some minor debris slides had closed one lane of Highway One. As crews worked to clear the road, heavy water runoff up at Pfeiffer Falls pulled at loose, muddy soil. Late in the afternoon, it broke loose and a wall of mud and rocks thundered down the park road.

    “Quick, fast, forceful.” Those words from Big Sur Lodge General Manager Rene Robles described the unstoppable power of nature he witnessed that day. “It started right around four pm,” Robles said. “The rain had stopped by then, so we weren’t really expecting it. Something let go up in the hills. We heard a rumbling and the mud came. It was over in less than forty minutes.”

    Mud like this hasn’t come since 1972, when devastating fires swept the Los Padres National Forest in and around the Park, wiping out underbrush and priming the hillsides to come down in heavy winter rains. That year, no barriers were put up. The slide started at picturesque Pfeiffer Falls, which is part of a tributary called Redwood Creek that flows down to the Big Sur River – right past the Lodge. The mud slammed into the building and roared through the lobby. Workers spent weeks shoveling out the mess.

    This year, the mud came from the same source. By 5 o’clock that day, an estimated 4,000 cubic yards of debris had covered the Lodge parking lot. That figure does not include what spilled out over the access roads and the highway.

    Rain Greenslate is the chief of Park Maintenance in Big Sur. “We had a couple of small slides on the day use road, but nothing like we saw out of the Redwood Creek area,” Greenslate told the Cedar Street Times. “That’s the one that let out a lot of debris onto the Lodge parking lot and Highway One and caused all the major damage. It got so high that some mud went over the top of the K-rails and seeped through the doors of the Lodge. If we didn’t have those K-rails, I tell you, the Lodge would have been wiped out. This is a massive debris slide.”

    Ms. Greenslate could not give an estimate on when the bridge to the State Park campgrounds would be put back, but confirmed that it had been removed in anticipation of a major mudslide.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 16, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Green


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