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U.S. Forest Service closes Trail of 100 Giants over worries about falling trees

A 240-foot-tall giant sequoia toppled in 2011 across the Trail of 100 Giants in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. New worries about how drought-weakened pine trees could fall on the trail have led officials to close the popular path to visitors. .
A 240-foot-tall giant sequoia toppled in 2011 across the Trail of 100 Giants in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. New worries about how drought-weakened pine trees could fall on the trail have led officials to close the popular path to visitors. . Special to The Bee

Sequoia National Forest officials have closed the Trail of 100 Giants – a major feature inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument – because dead and dying trees could fall across the trail and hurt or kill a visitor.

The Trail of 100 Giants leads to a grove of giant sequoias in the mountains of Tulare County not far from Camp Nelson and Ponderosa. It’s a popular stop for tourists.

The closure went into effect Tuesday.

Giant sequoias themselves are not considered at risk of falling. But many drought-stricken pine trees are under attack by Western bark beetles and could topple, said Denise Alonzo, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

“We need to close the trail for public safety,” she said.

We need to close the trail for public safety.

Denise Alonzo, Forest Service spokeswoman

It has happened before. In the summer of 2004, the trail was closed for a month or more because of dead trees, she said.

The trail will reopen late next spring after problem trees are identified and removed.

In September, Forest Service recreation crews observed the growing number of dead and dying trees and recognized the potential danger to visitors, Alonzo said.

A forester followed up with a visit, prompting the Forest Service to temporarily close the trail.

Businesses that depend on tourism are sure to be affected, said Kirk Klemcke, owner of the Camp Nelson General Store.

“I’m sure it will impact us,” he said. “It’s a big tourist draw.”

Foreign tourists in particular visit the Trail of 100 Giants, he said.

“We all love it,” he said. “I never tire of it. It’s why I live here.”

But it helps that the season is near an end, he said.

The Western Divide Highway leading to the trail closes for the winter, usually in mid-November, and stays closed until May, although it reopened in April this year as the drought dried up snowfall.

The Forest Service said it encourages the public to visit lesser-known areas within Giant Sequoia National Monument, such as the Nelson Trail in the Belknap, McIntyre and Wheel Meadow groves near Camp Nelson.

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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