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Bear Gulch Bridge
The Bear Gulch Bridge over Chalone Creek was destroyed by El Niño storms

Storms' aftermath

El Niño changes the scene at California national parks

March 18, 1998
Web posted at: 5:06 p.m. EDT (1706 GMT)

From CNN Correspondent Don Knapp

POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, California (CNN) -- California's national parks will look a little different this season, since El Niño's storms have pounded coastlines and interior areas with heavy rains and strong winds.

There were more than 200 elephant seal pups at Point Reyes National Seashore in February. Only 40 were left after the El Niño's storms blew through.

"The storms came in and did one of two things: either pounded the pups, which are pretty defenseless, up against the rocks, or secondly, they took them out to sea," said John Dell'osso of the National Park Service.

Broken trails on the side of a Point Reyes bluff won't be rebuilt, but they will replaced with new trails farther inland. Rainfall twice that of a normal year washed out roads and hillsides and changed the look of the park.

"A lot of washouts, stream beds that I've seen before, which are much deeper because of heavy water flows, and many Bishop pine trees have fallen across the trail," said hiker Ladd Bauer.

One storm knocked out 75 feet of a private fishing pier within the park. The Coast Guard took a trapped fisherman to shore.

The parklands and wildlife will recover on their own, eventually. But the "people" things, like trails and roads and bridges, will need work, and money -- more than a million dollars just to replace the bridge at Pinnacles National Monument. The cost of repairing federal parks in California alone will run more than $7 million.

Ranger Mark Igo's video camera recorded the park's worst day, back in February when streams swelled to raging rivers and roamed at will.

"It'll be a little difficult to make a phone call today, or go ahead and deposit our fee," his voice says as the tape pans the destruction.

The Pinnacles has been closed since the bridge washed out. It may be late May before a temporary bridge is ready and the park reopened to visitors.

The parks may indeed look a little different this year. Visiting may be less convenient, but nature's show -- whales off the shore, birds in the air -- remains unchanged.

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