Nearly 20 years ago, the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy, Chevron Oil, the city of Santa Clarita and even Los Angeles County agreed to make Pico Canyon and thus Mentryville into a state park. The buildings were to be restored and open to the public for tours. The roads and trails were to be maintained, too.
Chevron hauled almost all the old junk out of the canyon and the wells were capped. There were some delays in the process that were not the fault of anyone … little things like the 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 2003 fire, followed by the mud flows around the cottage and over the road.
So what has happened in the two decades since the agreement? Why aren’t the house, barn and school open often for tours? What happened to the agreement and the dream?
The people who own the land and park want an accounting. It is a California state park. We, the people of California, own it. The Mountains Conservancy isn’t a private company. It’s an arm of the state.
Questions nag at me. Questions like: If funding is so scarce, where did the money come from to do the following:
* Pave the road from the end of the Los Angeles County-maintained road to a little beyond the historic oil well, CSO No. 4?
* Cut down the historic eucalyptus trees (save one), and plant oaks and sycamore trees which are NOT native to Pico Canyon?
* Build the bridge over Pico Creek at the site of the old bakery and then build the trail up Minnie-Lotta Canyon?
* Cut the trail up the face of Mustard Hill (behind the Felton schoolhouse) and use some form of weed killer to keep brush from the school?
* Repair benches and tables at Johnson Park (the picnic grounds)?
These are just some of the many issues of the past 20 years that have not been answered. I have a few more.
There has been a lot of film and television studio use of Mentryville.
* What are those studios being charged, and is that money used on Pico – or the whole Mountains Conservancy system?
* What happens when the buildings used by those studios are damaged and not repaired?
* Why can’t the public use what it owns? What is taking 20 years to achieve what the agreement clearly stated was to happen?
In my very limited ability to find some answers, the one thing I’ve discovered is that the Mountains Conservancy, while a state agency, is operated like a kingdom. There isn’t much in the way of open discussion with the people who run it. The little kingdom doesn’t seem to answer to anyone.
This isn’t the only park operated by the Conservancy that seems to run roughshod over what the people need to know. Here is a little gem that I discovered during a tour of Rivendale at Towsley Canyon, concerning the proposed improvements of the city of Santa Clarita’s property in that area. Just a little minor matter. The pay-for-parking lot posted by the Conservancy, which few people use, isn’t on Conservancy land. It appears it is on city land.
Now, there isn’t that much money being generated there from parking fees. But it sure isn’t the place of the Conservancy to squat on city-owned land.
Every time I write something like this, I’ve found out the Conservancy park rangers hear from “higher authority” that I’m a problem. Many friends of mine have been told that, when they talk to the rangers. As one ranger said, “Yes, I know Darryl Manzer, and he has caused us all kinds of problems.”
I HOPE I HAVE.
The rangers and other Conservancy employees have so much to do and so little funding to do it. At least that is what I’m told. I like each and every one of them. They’ve got a thankless job at times, but what of these nagging questions and the bigger picture?
And why am I a problem? I only ask that the Conservancy adhere to the agreement signed nearly 20 years ago. Seems like a breach of contract to me. A breach of the contract with the people of California. Honest and open government is what we want. Sure can’t see that with the Conservancy.
Just to give them fair warning, I’m leading a small group of people on a hiking tour of Mentryville on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 9 a.m. It will be an amble or a stroll. We will move at the pace of my Basset hound, Mr. Renly. All y’all are welcome to join my small group.
We are going up the road as far as the old, historic well. About two miles is all … each way. Got to pay the $5 parking fee in the lot across from Felton School. You might want to car pool. You can get a pretty good parking place in Hollywood for the same price.
Wouldn’t you like a guided tour of Pico Cottage (aka the Big House) or the barn and the school? I just want to know when that is going to happen. Is that too much to ask?
What help can we provide to make it happen? Do I stop writing about it? Do I stop being a “problem” for the Conservancy?
Open the books and open the doors for the public tours that were promised nearly 20 years ago. Volunteers are standing by to conduct those tours. All you have to do is ask.
“And this is another fine mess I’ve got myself into … again.”
Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].