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Norma Saldana is a graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy who served as the coordinator of the coalition in 2016.

How did you hear about the Leadership Academy and what inspired you to apply for the program?
I heard through an email from a former professor. At the time, I was taking classes to obtain my Natural Resources and Wildlands Forestry certificate and had been active on campus, as the President of Earth Club; he thought it was a good idea for me to apply to the academy to build my skills and meet amazing individuals in my community who were doing similar work.

What was your project?
My project was a beautification project of Antonovich trail located in San Dimas. It included reaching out and working with local high schools and having students take part in three workshops. The first was a presentation on San Gabriel Mountains Forever, showcasing their work and, at the time, their efforts to push for the national monument and what it would mean to our community. The second was taking the youth out hiking to Antonovich trail and running simple tests to measure quality of water, and air, observe the wildlife (or lack thereof) and flora in the area (especially noting the presence of invasive species).The third part was to have an open event (inviting the community, city members, etc.) for a clean-up event to pick up (and record) trash, remove graffiti and install signs to alert hikers of poison oak. I ran into obstacles and various factors came into play that limited the completion of the project, including the fact that the trail was owned by three different entities, and there was little partnership at the time.

What’s the best thing you learned?
I learned about a lot of great organizations and community groups. I still keep in touch with them. I also met a lot of great individuals who have now become very close friends.

What surprised you about the program or your work on the project?
Having completed the program, I was surprised at the level of commitment and engagement that the organizers have put into this academy. It’s not just during the program when they work with each individual on creating a successful project — it’s also after. There is a wealth of support from various individuals who are willing to assist participants to connect them with resources in the community; anything from job opportunities to community events and actions and maintaining a positive relationship.

Describe being in the great outdoors.
For me, being in the great outdoors is what I plan my life around. Whether it is going to the park after work, taking a picture and looking up a plant that I saw on my way to work, or taking my dogs hiking on the weekend. There is not a moment when I am not in awe of nature and all that it provides. I feel privileged being able to wake up and see the San Gabriel Mountains every morning, especially living in the foothills, where I am a mere 15-minute drive away. It’s definitely something that I am aware of, especially having only recently had the opportunity to do so because of lack of transportation.

What’s your favorite way to spend your day in the San Gabriel Mountains?
My favorite way to spend my day in the San Gabriel Mountains is to go with a group of friends and explore the trails, learn about the history, observe the native flora and physically challenging yourself. Recently, I discovered Strawberry Peak, a physically challenging hike with inspiring and humbling views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

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