KNP Complex damage to keep Sequoia NP closed for months; Kings Canyon to partially reopen Monday

California
Cones block the entrance to Sequoia National Park as the KNP Complex Fire burns nearby on Sept. 15, 2021. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Cones block the entrance to Sequoia National Park as the KNP Complex Fire burns nearby on Sept. 15, 2021. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

With crews still unable to fully assess the damage to Sequoia National Park from the KNP Complex fire that tore through historic groves of giant trees, developed areas of the park won’t be able to reopen before December, officials said Friday.

But some wilderness areas of the park as well as Kings Canyon, a neighboring national park also impacted by the fire, will partially reopen on Monday, Oct. 18, according to a press release from the parks.

The blaze was caused by lightning on Sept. 10 and has burned more than 137 square miles of forest in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, which may include hundreds of giant sequoias consumed. It continued to spread Friday with 45% containment, according to the federal InciWeb page.

Crews say the reopening of Kings Canyon was made possible with some success in subduing the flames amid more favorable weather conditions.

However, the fire impacted infrastructure and there will be no running water available in Kings Canyon until systems are restored, which officials currently expect to happen in late October. Visitors are advised to bring enough water for their entire trip.

All bathrooms with plumbing will also be closed as a result of the water issues, but portable restrooms will be brought in where vault toilets aren’t available.

Camping will also be off-limits for the time being, as the park is only reopening for day use and wilderness use. Camping in Cedar Grove will be closed all winter, but officials hope some camping will become available at Azalea Campground in Grant Grove in the coming months.

Wilderness permits can be obtained free by self-issue this time of year. But trails in the Lodgepole, Middle Fork and Mineral King areas of Sequoia National Park are still closed, and hikers won’t be able to exit via those paths.

Currently, there is no timeframe for when developed areas of Sequoia National Park will welcome visitors again.

“Until the area is stable enough to assess safely, not enough is known to provide even an estimate,” park officials said in the release. “As park staff gain access and assess, a staged reopening is likely, based on different areas having sustained different levels of damage.”

The parks’ superintendent, Clay Jordan, said he’s aware of the impact the closures have on tourism in surrounding communities and provided access in central to the Park Service’s mission.

“We are extremely motivated to mitigate this crisis and reopen the parks as soon as it is possible to do so responsibly,” he said.

Areas and services within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks that are reopening to the public include:

  • Big Stump Entrance Station on Highway 180
  • The majority of Grant Grove, including the General Grant Tree
  • Kings Canyon Visitor Center Information Desk (exhibits, shop and theater remain closed)
  • Cedar Grove
  • Kings Canyon Wilderness except for Redwood Canyon
  • Areas east of the Great Western Divide in the Sequoia National Park Wilderness
  • South Fork in the Sequoia National Park Wilderness

The following areas and services within Kings Canyon National Park will remain closed:

  • All areas south of the intersection between Highway 180 and the Generals Highway, including Redwood Canyon
  • All Grant Grove concessions including restaurant, market, lodging and gift shop
  • All NPS campgrounds in Cedar Grove and Grant Grove
  • Park Ridge Trail
  • Big Stump Picnic Area

Damage from wildfires can make the terrain more susceptible to landslides, falling rocks and runoff, especially in stormy weather. Park officials say they’re particularly concerned about removing hazardous trees and stabilizing slopes along the Generals Highway.

Some infrastructure may take longer to repair before safe access can be ensured, park staff cautioned.

But officials say they’re working on a recovery plan as the fire’s containment increases, and a designated team will arrive next week to assess damage to natural and cultural resources as well as infrastructure.

The parks are expected to have a better grasp on the renovations needed by mid-November, when they hope to establish a reopening time frame. But no major reopening at Sequoia National Park is expected before December 2021, and it could be delayed well beyond that time depending on the fire’s activity and weather conditions.

Click here for the latest information on closures in the Sequoia National Forest.

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