The mark of urban filth has invaded the beautiful Santa Paula Canyon, and the efforts of county park officials and local families have done little to slow down its escalation.  

Candy wrappers, soda cans, Ziploc bags and cardboard beer containers are littered along the entire length of the canyon’s stream. The rocks, cliffs and mountainsides, although beautiful on their own are covered — completely in some cases — in spray paint graffiti. Often, these graffiti images are promoting gangs. So now, not only is the canyon filled with garbage, it has also become a dangerous, gang-affiliated trail. These are the Punch Bowls, the locally famous hike that brings a mixture of emotions to its visitors.  

The first feeling is one of awe at the jaw-dropping beauty of the landscape made up of lush mountains, incredible views and trickling, sometimes roaring, streams. But the very next feeling is usually one of disdain for the condition of this beloved hike.

Heidi Anderson, the Ojai Ranger District Wilderness Trails manager, used to lead a volunteer-based trail cleanup along the Santa Paula Punch Bowls hike trail every month. Now, this cleanup is conducted, at most, every two months due to a lack of enthusiasm by the volunteers who see little improvement from their efforts.

“The graffiti and trash problem keeps on escalating,” Anderson said. “Once I even went through with the Santadores (a local volunteer group) with sandblasters to remove the graffiti from the rocks, but within 10 days all of the graffiti was back. What needs to happen is, there needs to be more of a presence, every single weekend. That’s my opinion.”  
Nowadays, people’s enthusiasm has dwindled significantly since there have been few results in the cleanliness of the canyon.

“I used to get 20 to 30 people, and now I’m lucky to get five or 10,” Anderson said, “but people are getting so frustrated with the condition of the canyon that they don’t come back, and people are more interested in making new trails than cleaning up. I know for a fact that there are families that used to go up there but because of the amount of trash and graffiti they don’t like to go anymore because they are concerned with the appearance as well as their personal safety. There are always more people going, but there are also people who used to go there who refuse to go there now.”  

Outdoor enthusiast Kayla Jenson from New Hampshire, who recently hiked the trail, remarked on its condition.
“The Punch Bowls would’ve been one of the most beautiful hikes I have been on if it weren’t for all of the graffiti and trash. The disrespect that people have shown towards such an incredible hike is disgusting,” she said. “People should clean up their own trash and not deface public property. It makes the hike neither natural nor pure anymore. It felt almost as if I was hiking through the inner city. The graffiti and trash tainted the beauty in such a way that I don’t think I’d go back.”

The main entrance to the hike, accessed through Thomas Aquinas College, was previously more tightly patrolled.

“They used to have someone at the gate who would keep track of people going in, but the problem with that is that you would need to have someone there 24/7, but that used to help,” Anderson said.  

Anderson said she hopes local hikers will get more involved in the cleanup efforts, but so far, it has been a difficult task.