Known as the crown to the Valley of Angels, the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains frame the Los Angeles skyline. Over 15 million people live within 90 minutes of this island of green, which provides 70 percent of the open space for Angelenos and 30 percent of their drinking water. Millions recreate and rejuvenate in the San Gabriels each year, seeking out their cool streams and canyons during the hot summer months, their snowcapped mountains in the winter, and their trail system and historic sites throughout the year. – Presidential Proclamation (Oct. 10, 2014).
The designation of San Gabriel National Monument protected almost 350,000-acres of San Gabriel Mountains. These mountains are truly the backyard of Los Angeles, providing clean water, fresh air and essential wildlife habitat. Along with protecting these ecosystem services, the designation of the Monument ensured the surrounding communities’ ability to access these wild places. As President Obama recognized when designating the Monument: “For many residents of Los Angeles County — one of the most disadvantaged counties in the country when it comes to access to parks and open space for minorities and children–the San Gabriel Mountains provide the only available large-scale open space.”
And Angelenos seem to love the Monument. Poling showed 80% of people living in the surrounding communities supported the Monument and Latinos, which make up more than half of the county’s population, overwhelmingly supported the designation at 88%. During our visit, we saw tons of people hiking, biking, driving and enjoying lookouts throughout the Monument. There is something truly sacred about natural places adjacent to cities. San Gabriel ensures that open and undeveloped places will continue to be available to these communities.
Designation is an important and crucial step to ensuring continued access and conserving these mountains for future generations; however, access also requires funding or, in the absence of funding, volunteers to help make sure the campgrounds, recreation areas and trails remain open. The Monument did not see an increase in funding when it was designated and that makes volunteer groups like San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders so important. The group was established in 1984 and has worked with the Forest Service since that time to help maintain trails in the mountains. They meet at 8:00 am sharp every other Saturday and head into the mountains to maintain, clear, retread and create new trails. They are a dedicated crew of people who just love the mountains and want to give back.
Our group headed out to clear thorny chaparral whitethorn from the Islip Ridge Trail. The area had burned during the 2009 Station Fire and the spikey shrub will flourish without larger trees to block out the sun. As the whitethorn encroaches on the trail, people start creating new trials around the bush (and who could blame them, those shrubs were mean).
Trailbuilders had been working this trail, so we hiked a few miles to reach the last section of trail that needed to be cleared. In about three hours, we lopped our way through half-mile of trail. It sounds unimpressive, but those bushes can be dense and it certainly felt like a lot of work.
After volunteering we headed for the San Gabriel River for a quick dip. When we reached the river, it was clear this is where the community loves to gather! There were large groups of friends and families hanging out along the river. They were barbequing, swimming, and listening to music. Although signs implore people not to, there are tons of small swimming holes along the river created with small river rock dams. I could only imagine how many people would be at the river in the height of summer to cool off and I was so glad that this place was available for people to use. What a great escape from the city!