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--the California "Mega-Park" Project

Tracking measurable success on efforts across California to preserve and connect our Parks & Wildlife Corridors

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

2 Court Victories Over Trails in the San Gabriel Mountains

Editorial, Pasadena Star News-5/14/2008

It's been a good couple of weeks for trail access in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains.
First, a judge ruled definitively against the long-running, enormously misguided attempt by a small cabal in Altadena's La Vina Homeowners Association to prevent hikers from strolling where they have been since the 19th century.

That victory in Millard Canyon was celebrated with glee by many people of goodwill throughout the region, not a few of whom live in La Vina itself and who are going to be stuck with paying attorneys' fees because a small minority of their neighbors went off the deep end.

Also this month a Monrovia trail to which the public has long had access - if not from the 19th century, at least from the 1950s - was ruled entirely public again by a Pasadena Superior Court judge.

It was another case of a homeowner misunderstanding what the public right of way means. The Sawpit Wash Trail runs alongside a county flood-control channel for about two miles, and is popular with hikers and runners. When one homeowner over 50 years ago refused to sell land for the channel, the county obtained a binding easement for the trail. The city of Monrovia had to sue to make a new homeowner at the property understand what an easement means; again, the city and the hikers won.

Good stuff. But what about the sad situation in which one of the most famous trails in Southern California has been blocked not by some ornery property owner but by a landslide, and the powers that be can't seem to clear a way through?

That's what readers keep asking us about the massive slide that covers the historic Mt. Wilson Toll Road just past the bridge over the Eaton Canyon stream below Pinecrest Road in Altadena.
The slide occurred during the El Nino-driven rains of the winter of 2004-`05, when 38 inches of rain fell on the city, and many inches more came down in the mountains.

A quick glance shows that clearing the road - widened 101 years ago to accommodate the 100-inch Mt. Wilson telescope and closed to motor vehicles other than government ones since 1936 - is not going to be an easy task.

There are thousands of tons of dirt and rocks to be moved.

But it's been years now, during which the steep but lovely hike to Henninger Flats and on to Mt. Wilson has been not available to thousands of hikers and bicyclists used to its rugged charms.
So we called the man in charge of solving the problem, Frank Vidilas, acting chief of the Forestry Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and asked him what gives.

The good news is that Vidilas sees an end in sight. The bad is that it likely won't be cleared until April 2009. That's because the complications, says Vidilas, are both natural and bureaucratic.
In the first place, there are six more landslides than the one visible from town farther up the road. In the second, a lot of agencies - including the city of Pasadena, which owns the land the first slide covers; the California Department of Fish & Game; the United States Forest Service - all have fingers in the pie. It's been decided that the county needs to take the lead in solving the problem, because its vehicles use the road most, to bring supplies to the firefighters in permanent residence in cabins at Henninger. (Now the supplies come in from the clear road down from Mt. Wilson, but that's a long way around.)

Vidilas is working to get yet another bureaucracy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to foot the estimated $1.4 million bill for a contractor to clear the landslides. He hopes to see work begin by this fall.

So do we. It's been too long a wait to see the important trail cleared.

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