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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Sep 11, 2016

DianneErskineHellrigelAbout 45 environmentalists, activists, equestrians, hikers, government officials and many others have been working for more than a year (so far) to develop a new national monument plan. These 45 forest enthusiasts are looking for change – major change – in the portion of the National Forest that has become our local national monument.

Why do we need change? I’m so glad you asked.

Change has been requested in four major areas which include the following: increased and better transportation to and from the forest; better access for all to the forest; increased wilderness protections; better protection of endangered species, mining and recreation.

The Forest Service has said repeatedly it doesn’t feel the need to change. Our 45 forest enthusiasts disagree. Trails are for the most part in poor condition. Law enforcement is nowhere to be seen, which leads to problems between various trail users, graffiti, and trash being dumped or left behind by careless or uneducated users.

sangabriels01Rock dams are built by visitors to the forest to make pools in the creeks and rivers in which to swim. The users don’t realize this simple desire to create a pool kills our endangered fish – the Santa Ana sucker and our unarmored threespine stickleback. It can also kill our trout.

Mining by weekend mining enthusiasts is also causing problems when they use sluice boxes. Disturbing the banks of the rivers can cause muddy water to advance downstream. The casual miners don’t know this causes the fish to suffocate.

There are many trails in the southern region of the forest, but nothing in the northern area. And where there are trails, there is insufficient parking, crowded trails, and virtually no place for an equestrian to park a rig. And if they are successful in finding a place large enough to park and unload a horse, they might not be able to ride safely because the trails are not wide enough in most places for a horse and a speeding bicycle.

sangabriels03I’ve seen it over and over again, and I have friends with injuries because of it.

Transportation is an issue that has been better addressed by the people working on the monument plan, a few surrounding cities, and the Forest Service. Many are asking for bus service to the mountains for residents who don’t own vehicles.

I would prefer a shuttle to take everyone up Highway 2 and up Highway 39. This would eliminate the pollution from vehicles that is most certainly affecting species in the forest. It would eliminate taggers going in there with spray cans, with the worst of intentions. It would leave the limited parking available for equestrian rigs, which otherwise would have nowhere to go. Trains and buses would need to coordinate with forest shuttles to be most efficient.

Recreation is in great need of change. Law enforcement needs to be present on all trails. Due to budget deficiencies, this generally cannot be a ranger. However, trained volunteers could be present in uniform.

sangabriels02Speed limits for mountain bikes need to be enforced. A trail is not a racetrack. Mountain bikers need actually to yield to hikers and to equestrians. This needs to be enforced, and tickets need to be given out if speed limits are not obeyed. Speed limits and yield signs need to be posted.

Hikers need to yield to equestrians. They also need to be ticketed if they don’t. Horses spook, and riders get thrown and injured. This needs to stop.

People, whether they are on bikes, on a horse or on foot, need to be penalized for littering in the forest. There are not enough stewardship events to pick up after all of the people who leave behind trash, bullet casings, and bottles and cans in the forest. Not only does it make the forest look terrible, but trash left behind also can kill deer and condors.

Shape up, people. Pick up after yourself. And if you’re hiking in the forest, help out by picking up bits of trash here and there. Carry a bag with you for just this purpose.

Signage in most cases is simply nonexistent. There are no signs to tell you where to go, how to get there, how far it is, how easy or difficult it is, or what dangers to look out for. There are no signs with the rules and regulations. There are no signs to tell you about trail etiquette. There are no signs to educate you about the history. There are no maps locally available and no one on site to give you this information, either.

If you’re new to a trail, how are you supposed to figure it out? Most people don’t plan for a hike properly and don’t take the time to study an area ahead of time like they should. When people are not prepared, they can get lost, injured or even die out there. A knowledgeable volunteer or a ranger at every trail head could be invaluable.

sangabriels04Interpretive and educational signage would also be a plus. Signage to points of interest would also be appreciated by visitors. How else are you going to find it? You could wander around forever and never have the perfect visitor experience. A little bit of guidance in the form of a map, a volunteer, a sign or a ranger could go a long way.

The San Gabriel Mountains are a local treasure. They are a national treasure. We, the people need to take care of them and treat the land, the animals, and the water with respect.

The federal government needs to step up and increase funding to the Forest Service so it can do more than just fight fire. About 80 percent of the funding the Forest Service gets is to fight fire. How can we expect more from them? And yet, we need more. We need much more. American forests are a truly a national gem, and we need to love them, protect them and improve them.

The Forest Service has recently released a 195-page draft of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Plan. It has been called “toothless” and incomplete without any benchmarks being met.

They don’t commit to doing anything, they don’t include any objectives, nor do they mention any completion dates. We need a commitment from the Forest Service on each and every point of improvement. We want to know what, why, when and how.

If you are interested in learning more about the plan and would like to participate in the process, you are invited to attend one of the following meetings:

* September 14, 3-8 pm, Pico House, 430 N Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

* September 15, 4-8 pm, The Centre, 20880 Centre Pointe Pkwy., Santa Clarita, CA 91350

* September 17, 10 am -2 pm, ANF Headquarters, 701 N. Santa Anita Avenue Arcadia, CA 91006

* October 4, 3:30-7:30 pm, Big Pines Lodge, Angeles Crest Highway (HWY 2) Wrightwood, CA 92397

I will be at the Sept. 15 meeting. I hope to see all of you there, too. It’s your forest. We need your ideas. We need your input. We want to hear what you like and what you don’t like. We want to see you there.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

sangabriels_map091216

 

 

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