A milestone gift for L.A.’s trails
September 20, 2012
The Backbone Trail is one celebrity-owned property and an easement short of completion. The Cold Creek High Trail is just three parcels shy of being in public hands. Just one 700-foot path and hikers and horseback riders on the Las Virgenes Creek Trail will no longer have to pull up short at the Ventura Freeway.
But those gaps and more may soon be bridged with the help of some $3.2 million in county grants.
Generated by the county’s 1996 Proposition A park bond, and approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, the grants promise to make a big difference for nature enthusiasts in the Santa Monica Mountains, where some of Southern California’s best-known and most beloved trails are tantalizingly close to full public ownership.
Although the mountains have long been regarded as a public treasure, their property lines are actually a public-private patchwork, and many trails, habitats and watersheds run through private backyards and no-trespassing areas. Environmental advocates have worked for decades to acquire key lots and easements, and to forge connections among the trails that crisscross the peaks and canyons.
This week’s grants, spread among seven projects and ranging from $59,438 to $500,000, come from a pot that is periodically disbursed to fund parkland and open spaces, but this round is expected to make an especially big impact.
One $500,000 grant, for example, would get the ball rolling on a 110-acre addition to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The acreage, in Malibu’s Ramirez Canyon, “is a critical element . . . in filling a major gap in public ownership in the Santa Monica Mountains,” says Sam Hodder, who directs the Trust for Public Land in California. Among other things, Hodder says, the property includes a sensitive oak woodland habitat and a vulnerable stream that flows directly into Santa Monica Bay.
Another $500,000 grant, to the Mountains Restoration Trust, would complete the acquisition of the last three private parcels along the Cold Creek High Trail Project, adding 17.4 acres and 1.63 miles of trail between Stunt and Cold Canyon Roads. The extension will not only restore a longstanding neighborhood hiking and equestrian trail that was badly damaged in the fires and floods of the early 1990s, but—more importantly—will protect the Cold Creek watershed, a key habitat for mountain wildlife.
A third $500,000 chunk of change will go toward the Don Wallace Trail Project, a new path that will finally give hikers and equestrians safe passage down through the underpasses at the 101 Freeway and Agoura Road in Calabasas and on into Malibu Creek State Park.
And perhaps the most exciting grant, for $465,000, will allow the National Park Service to complete the Backbone Trail, one of the best known and most heavily used trails in Los Angeles County. For some 30 years, more than 35 organizations have been trying to obtain a public right-of-way across all of the 177 pieces of property that the trail crosses as it wends its way over the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains to the Pacific.
As of this year, only two parcels remained outstanding. A tentative agreement to convey an easement for one of them recently was reached with the National Park Service, according to Melanie Beck, who handles land deals for the NPS in the Santa Monica Mountains.
When the easement is finalized, it will leave just one incomplete spot on the 65-mile trail: a 40-acre swath of chaparral in Trancas Canyon owned by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Betty Weider, the 77-year-old wife of Schwarzenegger’s longtime friend and business partner, the fitness magazine publisher Joe Weider.
A spokesman for the governor confirmed this week that Schwarzenegger and Weider were approached years ago about the acreage but no agreement was reached. Schwarzenegger, the spokesman added, “remains open to meeting and talking about it again.” Weider could not immediately be reached.
The grants represent a big moment in the long-running effort to create a network of public pathways through the mountains.
“We need to celebrate the years of hard work that have gone into building the trail system,” Beck said. “With these accomplishments, we can help share and publicize this trail system with the many groups that wish to enjoy the Santa Monica Mountains long into the future.”