A popular Ventura County hiking area will remain off-limits for the next two months as officials look to stave off potentially unsafe crowding conditions amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Under an order from the Los Padres National Forest, part of Santa Paula Canyon — from the forest boundary to about three miles above the area known as the Punch Bowl — will remain closed until Sept. 30.
Also closed will be the Big Cone, Cross and Jackson Hole campgrounds and the Last Chance Trail.
“This extension was implemented due to the increasingly heavy vehicle traffic and large groups of visitors potentially creating conditions where recommended physical distancing protocol is not possible,” officials said of the new restrictions.
Violations will be punishable by a fine, potentially as much as $5,000 for an individual, and up to six months’ imprisonment, according to the order.
Santa Paula Canyon and Punch Bowls Trail in Ojai Valley originally closed in May after crowds of cooped-up Californians flocked to the area.
As visitors descended in droves, officials said the Punch Bowl area was inundated with litter and human waste. The crowds themselves also were cause for concern, as officials stressed the need to avoid gathering in groups to help prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
Officials said hundreds of volunteers have since worked to remove thousands of pounds of trash and clean graffiti from the canyon.
“The unnecessary damage to this area was very disheartening, but from that there was a very positive outcome when an amazing group of volunteers decided they were going to reclaim this special place,” acting Ojai District Ranger Karina Gutierrez said in a statement. “We will continue working with this group over the next two months while the area is closed so the land can begin to heal.”