Post by Andrew Yip originally published as a guest commentary by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The San Gabriel Valley is a beautiful place of history, culture and imagination. A little known fact is that the old “Tarzan” series was filmed in the “jungles” of the San Gabriel River before it was channelized.

And while the San Gabriel Mountains are a daily sight for many Angelenos, it’s amazing to think that just half a century ago, these dramatic peaks were one of the Southland’s few prominent landmarks. Today, I would consider the range a monument in itself.

I grew up in Rosemead, and later moved to Hacienda Heights, nestled between the Puente Hills and the San Gabriel River, at a time when wilderness did not exist for me. I knew of the foothills, and had been to their base, but it was beyond my imagination to envision a place of solitude higher up in the mountains.

These are places with untamed lands where creatures of our National Geographics roam freely. I wasn’t able to fathom the wilderness that was within just a few miles of my home and even more undistinguished were the rivers tucked behind the tract houses.

I discovered these treasures after weekend trips as a child to Legg Lake and the parks along the San Gabriel Mountains. I grew up in an immigrant family where we didn’t have much money but I’m grateful I got to see the San Gabriel Mountains instead of a Matterhorn at Disneyland. I have fond memories of hiking in the mountains and fishing at Legg Lake with my parents and siblings and that inspired a love for our land.

When I enlisted in the military during high school, it renewed my interest in hiking and camping. I was also glad to explore the outdoors without the hardship of military drills, but where would I go? That’s when I remembered the San Gabriel Mountains.

Around that time I also began exploring my faith when I encountered the spiritual in the wilderness – just as Jesus, and many religious leaders of the world, had done. The wilderness can be a haven of solitude, and I recalled how Jesus went solo to meditate and wander.
Wildlands can also be a place of gathering as Jesus often met with the people in the desert and in riverbeds.

Henry David Thoreau once described his own experiences in the wilderness: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I too, began exploring my own identity in the wilderness while learning about the rich and vast history surrounding the mountains and rivers.

I started learning about the very rivers and mountains that I speak of and discovered the hidden stories in these wildlands and they captivated me. The history of Asian and Latino farmers tilling the farms together beside the San Gabriel River. The Gabrieleños finding sustenance in the river for centuries. The migrant workers taking a rare day of rest at Marrano Beach on the Rio Hondo River. All our stories are unique and yet they are part of the same cloth of history and culture that is tied to the land.

Development and channelization have hidden our rivers. Our mountains went neglected as we took them for granted. And though the San Gabriel Mountains often record more visitors than Yellowstone, there simply is not enough funding and infrastructure to support the crowds.
But if we do not improve access to our public lands and permanently protect our San Gabriel Mountains, how can we inspire a new generation of advocates for the forest? That’s why I support a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

The San Gabriel Mountains and our rivers exist outside the minds of the residents because there’s disconnect and lack of history being taught to residents of San Gabriel Valley. We must rekindle the appreciation of our rivers and mountains by reintroducing people to the land – their land. Nothing rings more true than John James Audubon’s words, “I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.”

Andrew Yip, a student at Azusa Pacific University, serves in the U.S. Army Reserves. He is a recent graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy and a program coordinator at Bike San Gabriel Valley.

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