Photo credit: DaveReichert/Creative Commons
On June 5, I joined members of the Angeles Chapter's Hundred Peaks Section in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. This was the 30th year they've had a hike in the San Gabriels the first Sunday in June. That's me below with Hundred Peaks Section members Joe Young and Stag Brown at the Akawie Summit, named for longtime Sierra Club Outings volunteer Dick Akawie.Two days later I hiked again in the range with Sierra Club organizer Juana Torres, one of the leaders of the Club's San Gabriel Mountains Campaign to permanently protect wild places and wild & scenic rivers in the San Gabriels, considered the recreational "backyard" for 17 million Southern Californians.
Call me crazy, but I thought Los Angeles was just freeways, sprawl, and smog. Imagine my surprise to find this incredibly beautiful and wild area so close to the city.
The Sierra Club is a coalition member of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a diverse partnership of community, faith, and environmental groups working to preserve what is arguably Southern California's most scenic and most valuable natural resource.
The San Gabriels, which comprise 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and provide one-third of the county's water, receive some 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.'s Latino community.
There are currently five wilderness areas in the San Gabriels, and the Sierra Club and San Gabriel Mountains Forever are seeking to protect an additional 36,000 acres as wilderness and designate five waterways as National Wild & Scenic Rivers. U.S. Representatives David Drier (R-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) have been champions of the San Gabriels in Congress, and the Sierra Club has worked with all three for years.
This January, Rep. Drier introduced the Angeles and San Bernadino National Forest Protection Act (H.R. 113), which would protect a little under 19,000 new acres as wilderness, address a backlog of maintenance issues, and complete river studies for possible future Wild & Scenic designation. We laud Rep. Drier for his efforts, but the Sierra Club is seeking protections for the mountain range that go further than those offered by H.R. 113.
Ultimately, the Club's vision for the San Gabriels is to get the range designated as a National Recreation Area. The mountains contain some of the most beloved recreation areas in L.A. County, but they suffer from inadequate maintenance and services. Rest rooms and picnic tables are scarce, few Forest Service employees speak Spanish, and there is no real visitor center or significant investment in stewardship or educational services. Designating a San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area would address these shortcomings.
But first things first: Please call or write Congressman Drier, asking him to strengthen H.R. 133 by protecting 36,000 new acres of wilderness in the Cucamonga and Sheep Mountain wilderness areas, and designating the east, west, and north forks of the San Gabriel River, the middle fork of Lytle Creek, and San Antonio Creek as Wild & Scenic Rivers rather than simply completing studies on these waterways.
And get out and enjoy the San Gabriels. Maybe you, too, can earn a Hundred Peaks badge. I have two peaks down and intend to add more!