Earth Month Campaign: #MySGMtns

sgmf_mysgmtns_earth_monthShow and tell time! To celebrate Earth Month, we’re asking you to share photos of your visits to the San Gabriel Mountains using the hashtag #MySGMtns with a caption about your reason for loving the San Gabriel Mountains. We’ll share and post our favorites online. Share your photos on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag ‪#‎MySGMtns‬, along with a caption Find us on Twitter and Instagram (go ahead and tag us, too: @sgmtnsforever).

Convert-a-Can Event: West Fork Trail Beautification


Volunteers, students, and artists participated in a Convert-A-Can park beautification projects we presented with the U.S. Forest Service in the San Gabriel Mountains.

For the event, trash dumpsters in the West Fork trail/picnic area in the San Gabriel Mountains were transformed into functional art installations in an effort to help clean up the West Fork Trail, the picnic area, and the river. Nearly a year ago, the USFS trash receptacles along the East Fork of the river were painted to encourage proper trash disposal and prevent graffiti.

Leading the day’s hand-on action: Leadership Academy graduates Emely Garcia and Megan Devine.

Bringing the San Gabriel Mountains Closer to the People

Post by Robert Garcia originally published by KCET Departures

Paco Serrano, a Highland Park youth advocate with the Anahuak Youth Sports Association, will drive three hours to go hiking and camping in Lake Isabella in the heart of the Kern River Valley, but he has never been to the Angeles National Forest or the San Gabriel Mountains, less than an hour away. Serrano is now working to support a proposed national recreation area there. “I think it’s important to take children to the San Gabriel Mountains so they can see that nature is free to them. They will begin to appreciate the mountains for themselves. Many people in my community don’t know of the opportunities provided in the San Gabriel Mountains.”

The San Gabriels represent about 78% of the open space in Los Angeles County, the largest “urban” forest in the nation. Ten million people live within an hour’s drive, with opportunities for recreation and physical activity, as well as education, spirituality, and respite from urban stresses. The San Gabriel Watershed is a critical source of clean air, habitat protection, and clean water, providing about a third of the drinking water for local communities.

While the San Gabriel Valley is ethnically and economically diverse, the visitors to the Angeles National Forest are overwhelmingly white. According to the United States Forest Service, Latinos are nearly 50% of the area’s population, but account for only 11% of the visitors to the forest. Similarly, Asians are 25% of the area’s population, but are less than 5% of the visitors. Only 1% of Angeles visitors are African American.

The San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition is organizing a regional and national push to diversify access to and support for the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains through a national recreation area (NRA) to be managed cooperatively between federal, state and local agencies. NRAs include urban parks that combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas in locations that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.

According to Daniel Rossman, a member of the Coalition and Regional Associate with The Wilderness Society, “the NRA would go through the heart of the San Gabriel Valley,incorporating the San Gabriel River and the Puente Chino Hills State Park. It would leverage resources to address the open space needs of the community and promote a connected trails system. It could support a transit-to-trails program providing public transportation to outdoor recreation. And our vision includes a Conservation Corps program to offer year-round employment for regional youth and returning military veterans.”

Rossman said NPS would spend $2 to $4 million to create the NRA. The United States Forest Service would also spend resources to manage its own lands and resources in the Angeles and adjoining San Bernardino National Forest. In the past the USFS has prioritized fire control rather than recreation, leading to rundown trails and facilities.

Where will the money come from? “Federal appropriations. Other NRA designations have been able to leverage private sources of funding. Such a designation would help support public and private funding in the region and better leverage resources among agencies,” according to Rossman.

The need to improve public health helps build support for the NRA. According to Nelson Trujillo, a resident of East Los Angeles, “There is no safe place for outdoor recreation where I live. It’s dangerous. I think physical activity will improve the health of my children, keep them safe, healthy and out of trouble.” Throughout much of the San Gabriel Valley, 30% or more of all children are overweight or obese. Outdoor programs could also provide positive alternatives to gangs, crime, drugs and violence.

Why are visitation rates by people of color so low to the Angeles? That is a pattern often seen in national forest and park lands. According to a recent study of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – one of the most visited national parks – traditionally absent groups expressed frustration with limited physical access, subtle racism, and general exclusion from the culture of parks as reasons they avoid these public spaces.

Professor Nina Roberts, one of the authors of the study, explains, “Research over a span of 50 years exploring precisely that question has shifted focus from marginalization due to cost and transportation, to a more cultural understanding of not feeling comfortable or welcome by other visitors or park staff.” The San Francisco State academic adds, “Policies covering what is permissible or considered appropriate to do in these areas may not fit cultural preferences and patterns. In the last 10 to 15 years, for example, agencies have come to recognize the need for large group camp-outs and picnic sites to accommodate extended families. Picnics, outdoor sports, throwing a football around, playing soccer or other social activities may be limited, with people often told to get off the land.” People of color disproportionately visit parks in large family groups and for active recreation. According to Roberts, “agencies are trying to do a better job with community engagement. We will see a better level of comfort as a result.” But history is still real today, she points out.

In the 1920s and after, racially restrictive covenants prevented people of color from owning or using property at Lake Arrowhead, a mountain lake that lies in the San Bernardino Mountains just outside the proposed NRA area. The federal government traded away land on the lake for land in the woods. Today there is no public access to Lake Arrowhead, as private mansions and businesses ring the lake in what ironically is known as “the Beverly Hills of the Mountains.” In the last decade, the Forest Service faced employment discrimination suits by women, Latinos and African Americans that led to programs to diversify staff and visitors.

Pedro Chavez, a resident of Glassell Park, favors signage and programs in English and Spanish in the NRA “because there are many people who don’t speak English.” A November 2010 poll by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times found that Latino and Asian voters throughout California are significantly more concerned about core environmental issues, including global warming and pollution, than non-Hispanic whites. This study allowed voters to answer questions in their native language. This suggests that culturally appropriate programs could engage more visitors.

Robert Bracamontes, a member of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe, urged cabinet level federal officials to include Native Americans in the planning process at a public hearing in the summer of 2010. “The most important message here is that we are on Tongva land. They are the people who should be making decisions about their land and the sacred sites on it.” The Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center in the Angeles National Forest features a museum, gallery, and activity space. Other cultural and historical sites in the study area and in or near the proposed NRA include the Juan de Bautista National Historic Trail, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, the grave of Owen Brown, who took part in the slave rebellion at Harper’s Ferry, and the sites of WWII Japanese relocation assembly centers at the Santa Anita racetrack and the Pomona County fairgrounds.

The 1930 Olmsted plan, Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region, called for including Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel River as part of a comprehensive web [10] of parks, playgrounds, mountains, beaches, rivers and transportation. A 2004 study by USC documented that there is no realistic way of reaching the Angeles Forest from Union Station via transit. A transit-to-trails program would help.

The Coalition supports an improved version of Alternative D (see map on right) from the study simply because “it does more to improve recreational opportunity for the region and is the environmentally preferred alternative,” according to Juana Torres, a member of the Coalition and regional organizer with the Sierra Club.

There has been some opposition to the NRA based on a stated fear of large government and claimed federal land grab, but “our vision is to ensure that the land that we already own, as taxpayers, meets our local needs. The community overwhelmingly supports this vision,” reports Torres.

The City Project  and diverse allies who are in the Coalition  are submitting recommendations in support of Alternative D,  which includes equal access to public resources under equal justice laws and principles, and adequate funding for all. The National Park Service has an opportunity to create a best practice example in the San Gabriel Mountains of a balanced urban national recreation area with passive recreation like hiking in the mountains and active recreation including sports fields in the flat lands that serves the diverse needs of people of color, environmental justice, and environmental quality for all.

People who would like to weigh in can write to the National Park Service in their own words, or respond to a questionnaire on the NPS website.

Post-Monument Work for the San Gabriels

Monument status for San Gabriels, but much work to do” by By Daniel Rossman and Belinda Faustinos was originally published as a guest commentary published in the Pasadena Star News Friday, February 13, 2015

The decade-long effort to protect our beloved San Gabriel Mountains is far from over. No sooner had the celebration concluded after the president’s welcome designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument than we began the next leg of our journey-securing stronger protection for wild places within the monument, safeguarding important areas outside the proclamation boundary and ensuring the community’s vision of increased access for all to use and enjoy these unique wild lands is realized.

Anyone who lives and works in the San Gabriel Valley, as we do, cannot help but be inspired by our majestic backyard of rugged mountains and snow-covered peaks. The San Gabriel Mountains extend across both the Angeles and the San Bernardino national forests, two of the busiest in the country, drawing more than 5 million visitors each year. But the forests are woefully underfunded and underserviced and often lack adequate trail signs, visitor information, staffing and culturally appropriate education programs. At many popular destinations, there are not enough parking spaces, riverbank trails, trash containers or restrooms. Within Los Angeles’ urban communities, the shortage of parks and open space is shortchanging our children. Securing permanent protections for the San Gabriel Mountains and the surrounding area will help solve many of these problems.

San Gabriel Mountains Forever is a diverse partnership of local residents, cities, businesses, faith and community leaders, health and environmental justice organizations and recreation and conservation groups working collaboratively to safeguard this majestic mountain range. Over the years, we have worked closely with Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, to develop legislation we believe will accomplish many of our goals through National Recreation Area, Wilderness, and Wild and Scenic River designations. In the 113th Congress, Chu introduced a comprehensive bill to establish a National Recreation Area for the San Gabriel Mountains (H.R. 4858) – a bill broadly supported by the local community. As we worked to secure passage of this measure, we continued to discuss with the congresswoman and the local communities additional legislation to establish wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations within the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests.

With time running out in the 113th Congress and the House not moving Chu’s legislation, we turned to the Obama administration to take action to protect our treasured landscape. And, on Oct. 10, 2014, our efforts were rewarded when the president officially designated the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument using his authority under the Antiquities Act. The new monument was not as large as many had hoped for, and did not include specific areas within the Angeles National Forest that we believed were equally deserving of protection and new management. However, this was a remarkable accomplishment, culminating many years of hard work and dedication by a multitude of individuals, businesses and organizations. Finally, the San Gabriel Mountains will receive the special attention, resources and management they deserve as a national monument. And make no mistake, this designation will positively impact the entire Angeles National Forest. As more resources come as a result of the monument, more rangers and staff will be hired, newer education programs will be created and the entire forest will benefit.

For San Gabriel Mountains Forever, the monument designation will help guide future efforts. The coalition will actively participate in the development of the management plan for the new monument and continue its efforts for additional protections for the San Gabriels and surrounding area through legislation that may include expanding the new monument through legislation, establishing a National Recreation Area, and wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers designations for areas of particular conservation concern. To this end, we will continue to work with Chu and other members of the California congressional delegation and to engage the various communities who cherish LA County’s greatest treasure. We are determined to bring more resources and protections to areas outside of the monument, including the Arroyo Seco and Cucamonga Canyon, and we encourage anyone with the same goal to join us in these efforts.

Much work remains, and we are committed to fulfilling our mission of permanently protecting and increasing access to the San Gabriel Mountains and Rivers.

Spirituality and Heritage in the Wilderness

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.