2016 is behind us, and what a year it was for CORBA and mountain bikers! We were extremely busy last year, cutting trails, cutting trees, and working on behalf of the mountain bike community to ensure continued and improved access to mountain biking in the greater Los Angeles and Eastern Ventura County areas.
Opening of Ken Burton Trail
In 2016, the Gabrielino Trail Restoration project, with REI, Bellfree Contractors, and Los Angeles Conservation Corps, was completed. Ken Burton Trail restoration with MWBA was completed, opening the Ken Burton trail and a popular loop after seven years of closure, thousands of volunteer hours, and nearly three years of planning.
The Community Collaborative hands comments to the Forest Service
Last Thursday, October 27, 2016, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Community Collaborative group (Collaborative) finalized their consensus comments on the SGMNM Management Plan. The process was helped immensely by the extension of the public comment period through to today, November 1st.
The Collaborative took a long, hard look at the draft Management Plan, and felt that it fell short of accomplishing everything desired by the community, and mandated by the Presidential Proclamation. I served on the Monument and Transportation Plan Coordinating Committee, tasked with developing comments for the entire Collaborative to review and approve. We broke down the management plan, and assigned sections to those with expertise and interest in the section topics. I helped write the Sustainable Recreation section with the Sierra Club representative, while the Heritage Resources section was initially drafted by an archaeologist. Over the course of two months, numerous conference calls, and four Collaborative meetings, the comments were developed and modified into a document that all members could support.
The Collaborative’s strength comes from the diversity of its membership. When the Collaborative was convened, effort was made to bring in diverse and sometimes opposing viewpoints, including some who did not initially support the Monument. Over the course of nearly two years, Collaborative members have become much more aware of and sensitive to the issues and viewpoints of other members. It’s been a slow process of building trust, and coming up with compromises that support the greater vision for the Monument. The member list is available on the National Forest Foundation’s SGM Community Collaborative page, along with all our meeting records and documents.
The Collaborative code of conduct prohibits any Collaborative member from submitting individual or organization comments that are contradictory to those of the Collaborative. CORBA’s comments supplement the Collaborative comments, addressing a few issues not addressed by the Collaborative. Both are posted here for review.
Nothing in the Management plan directly affects mountain bike access to existing trails. Much of the draft plan and the Collaborative comments concern social and environmental justice, transportation, and heavily impacted areas of the Monument.
The Forest Service expects to release a Final Management Plan next spring, as they read through and respond to all the public comments received. That will be followed by an objection period, then a final Record of Decision. The Presidential Proclamation mandates the completion of the plan by October 10, 2017, the third anniversary of the establishment of the Monument.
President Obama signs the proclamation, October 10, 2014
Next month, October 10, 2016 marks the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s proclamation declaring the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. We’re also two years in to the three-year deadline imposed on the Forest Service to develop a Management Plan for the new National Monument. The management plan development process is well on track to meet the October 10, 2017 deadline for completion, with a draft Environmental Analysis (EA) and draft Management Plan released on August 17, 2016. The public has until November 1st to submit comments on the EA and draft Plan.
Since the Proclamation, the Forest Service has conducted the Need to Change analysis, identifying what needed to change in the current Forest Management Plan to fulfill the mandates of the Proclamation. CORBA and thousands of others subhttp://need to changemitted comments on what we thought needed to change, which the Forest Service considered when developing the EA and draft Plan. The comment period has been extended until November 1st, to ensure everyone ample time to review, while still keeping on track for the 2017 deadline.
For the first time in Forest Service history, the agency was also tasked with the development of a Transportation Plan that would achieve a number of goals: provide access for those without vehicles or other means to get to the Monument, mitigate parking and over-use problems, and address environmental justice.
Over the summer, the city of Duarte did a trial run of shuttles from the newly opened Gold Line light rail station to Fish Canyon falls trailhead, giving Forest visitors a vehicle-free way to access the forest.
Over the next few weeks, a second pilot program will be running shuttles from the Arcadia Gold Line station to Chantry Flat, where there is a historic mule pack station, numerous multi-use trails, picnic facilities, historic cabins and at least two waterfalls. The free shuttle is being operated in partnership with Car-less California and the Forest Service.
For this pilot program, unfortunately the smaller buses aren’t equipped to carry bicycles, but for those who want to ride a bicycle to the rail line, there are bike lockup facilities at the Gold Line station. The Forest Service is already aware of our desire to have bike racks available when and if a permanent shuttle service is provided.
The shuttle will operate for three weekends with the first shuttle leaving Arcadia at 7 am and the last shuttle leaving Chantry Flat at 4pm. The shuttle will run continuously, approximately every 30 – 45 minutes. Dates:
September 24 (National Public Lands Day), and 25, then October 1 and 2, and October 8 and 9. The shuttle is free, no reservations are required.
On August 17, the Forest Service released the remaining chapters of the draft Environmental Analysis (EA) and draft Management Plan. The plan will guide the management of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (Monument) by the Forest Service.
The biggest changes are those mandated by the Presidential Proclamation, including the development of a Transportation Plan, to address parking and overcrowding. Nothing in the draft plan changes mountain bike access to trails within the Monument or the National Forest. It does however, update the current Management Plan to include the Pleasant View Ridge and Magic Mountain Wilderness areas which were designated after the current Forest Management Plan plan was last updated in 2005.
Some sources have described the draft plan as “toothless.” It is short on specifics and lacks details of how many of the objectives and desired conditions will be achieved. However, it isn’t meant to cover specifics. Those are on-the-ground project-level decisions, that must be in compliance with the Plan. The draft Plan takes much of the current Forest Management Plan’s existing language and direction, which provides management guidance that was deemed to be in compliance with the mandates of the Presidential Proclamation. Therefore many of those sections weren’t considered to be in need of change. The Plan appears as Appendix C of the draft EA.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement and more specific direction. The San Gabriel Mountains Community Collaborative (Collaborative) is undertaking a deep analysis of the plan. CORBA will be submitting comments, and will also submit comments as a member organization of the Collaborative. We encourage all to attend a meeting or the online webinar and submit comments, expressing your support for continued and improved mountain biking recreation.
September 14, 3 – 8 pm, Pico House, 430 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
September 15, 4 – 8 pm, The Centre, 20880 Centre Pointe Pkwy, Santa Clarita, CA 91350
September 17, 10 am – 2 pm, ANF Headquarters, 701 N. Santa Anita Avenue, Arcadia, CA 91006
October 4, 3:30 – 7:30 pm, Big Pines Lodge, Angeles Crest Highway, Wrightwood, CA 92397
The Collaborative have requested that at least one of the public meeting presentations be recorded and made available online for those whose schedules don’t allow them to attend one of the public meetings.
The Forest Service aims to have the final plan, addressing any comments received, next spring, followed by a formal objection period for anyone who submitted comments and believes they were not addressed. The proclamation mandates the plan be completed by October 10, 2017.
Currently mountain bike advocacy is facing one of the the most important long-term issues in our history. The issue is whether mountain bikes should be allowed on trails in Wilderness areas. How mountain bikers and advocacy leaders respond to this can either be polarizing or make us an even stronger voice in the trail user and land stewardship community.
In Idaho Montana, the Wood River Bicycle Coalition, an IMBA chapter, worked with IMBA to build support for a National Monument rather than a Wilderness area. Over a period of several years, negotiations with wilderness advocates, motorized and other recreation groups and elected officials formed a broad coalition of support. However, raw ugly politics ultimately produced a Congressional designation for the Boulder White Clouds Wilderness. This was a painful and well-publicized loss to the mountain biking community. The land protection provisions they had negotiated in good faith to produce a bicycle-friendly National Monument designation were ultimately lost to a crass political maneuver to deny President Obama any semblance of a success. Congress passed a Wilderness bill and the Castle Divide and Ant’s Basin trails were closed to bikes.
Meanwhile, attorney Ted Stroll had been continuing his research into the Wilderness Act, and the congressional debates and intent surrounding that landmark legislation as it was enacted in 1964. He had concluded that the original intent was never to exclude bicycles, as a human-powered form of low-impact recreation, from Wilderness areas. Further research led him to believe that, in accordance with our constitution, we have the right to bring our grievances to the U.S. government. To do this, he formed the Sustainable Trails Coalition (STC), whose sole mission is to pass legislation that would allow local land managers to open trails to bicycles in Wilderness, and to authorize the use of machinery that would allow the most cost-effective and efficient maintenance on Wilderness trails, on a case-by-case, trail-by-trail basis.
How many mountain bikers view the wilderness ban on bikes
The timing of the Idaho defeat brought heightened attention to the STC and their focused, single-issue mission. It cast doubt in the mountain biking community about the effectiveness of IMBA’s approach of building broad partnerships and seeking compromises to both protect bicycle access, while protecting the landscapes through which we ride bikes with a mix of Wilderness boundary adjustments, cherry-stems, and alternative designations. This approach has been highly successful in many instances, but there have been some exceptions, with this loss in Idaho being the most recent and the most publicized.
Condor Peak Trail – Wilderness advocates are still proposing a Condor Peak Wilderness.
Here in the Angeles National Forest, we’ve lost access to much of the backcountry trail network on our Forest. This has placed increased use pressure on non-Wilderness trails by all user groups. Trail maintenance on Wilderness trails has come to a near-halt in many areas, and all user groups are losing those trails to nature. We don’t have any bicycle-legal singletrack options to traverse the San Gabriel Mountains north-south, or east-west, because of numerous closed trails, Wilderness designations, and restrictions on bicycles on the Pacific Crest Trail. Similarly, in the Sierra, Inyo, and Sequoia National Forests there are vast swaths of Wilderness and a few isolated areas that are open to bikes, many of which are currently being evaluated for Wilderness (and, remarkably, the folks who maintain many Wilderness trails and can’t keep up with the workload have objected to any new Wilderness.).
These Wilderness losses are very much a localized issue, affecting California and the Western States disproportionately to other areas. California has the most Wilderness areas of any state, and is second only to Alaska in Wilderness acres. Here in CORBA’s territory, we have the largest population base in the country near a National Forest. 1 in 20 Americans live within easy driving distance of the Angeles National Forest, with its five Wilderness areas and additional Recommended Wilderness taking nearly one third of the Forest.
Condor Peak Trail
Recreational activities are greatly reduced in Wilderness areas compared to non-wilderness areas, even if bicycles are left out of the equation. Maintenance efforts are greatly reduced and near-impossible for the Forest Service to schedule, as the cost of manual labor to rebuild trails (no mechanized tools allowed, even wheelbarrows) means these trails often don’t get worked on. While the same can be said of many lesser-used non-wilderness trails, this doesn’t bode well for the future of Wilderness trail recreation.
It also disproportionately affects a smaller subset of the mountain biking community who seek out, relish, and live for backcountry wilderness-type settings that can be experienced by bicycle. It’s why I started mountain biking, and what inspires me to continue exploring and experiencing these majestic landscapes. Sure, I love purpose-built flow trails, downhill trails, and our many favorite local trails. They are needed, but they don’t offer the same experience and escape that some of us live for. We need a broad spectrum of experiences and trail types to cover the many diverse reasons for which people ride mountain bikes, including wilderness-type experiences.
There have been calls for IMBA to take a stronger stand on the Wilderness access issue in print media, the blogosphere, and on social media. In fact, if you have followed closely, the amount of grandstanding on both sides of the bikes in wilderness debate has escalated. From reading some of what has been published, one could easily come away with the assumption that mountain bikers have to pick a side: either support the Sustainable Trails Coalition or support IMBA. Over the past month there have been many calls, emails and forum posts asking to cancel IMBA memberships.
Some writers in the print media have accused IMBA of taking a hardline stance against the STC, but there is much more nuance to their statements that has been overlooked. IMBA hasn’t condemned the STC or opposed their efforts. In fact, IMBA has for many months taken a neutral public policy position toward STC’s strategy, neither supporting nor opposing. Publicly, IMBA has simply stated that the STC approach is not appropriate for IMBA’s mission, given STC’s single focus, uphill battle, risks and uncertain future.
Pressure continues to mount calling for IMBA to support the STC, or at the bare minimum, take a more conciliatory stance and acknowledge the common ground that exist between the two organizations. IMBA have held a press conference explaining their position, posted an FAQ on land protection strategies they will continue to utilize, and conducted four Chapter Leader Executive Briefings with question and answer sessions with approximately 100 chapter leaders nationwide, which I attended. Many forum comments have construed their public arguments and tone as denigrating and dismissive of the STC, but in direct conversations with IMBA staff, that tone is much more nuanced.
With all this attention on Wilderness, one could be misled into thinking that this was the only issue facing mountain bikers. Admittedly, it is probably the most far-reaching issue that could fundamentally change our approach, as mountain bikers, to land protections nationwide, and especially in the Western states like California. But there are still plenty of more immediate issues and opportunities that need immediate, focussed attention, and that is where IMBA has chosen to put its limited resources and energy.
We see this “us vs. them” dichotomy as far from the case. The fact that IMBA has chosen not to support STC does not infringe upon anyone’s first amendment right to speak up for and support the STC, including us as a chapter of IMBA. IMBA’s (and CORBA’s, for that matter) plate is full with current mountain biking issues, and the vast amount of attention and resources needed to achieve the STC’s mission and focus on Wilderness access would hinder our ability to tend to more immediate threats, identify new opportunities, take advantage of current opportunities, and just get things done now.
We believe we need both organizations. STC’s single, focussed mission is to enact legislation that will allow management of wilderness trail access (and mechanized maintenance) to happen at the most local level feasible. STC is not a membership organization and as such is not structured for or able to do anything on the ground right now to open closed trails to bikes or develop and maintain positive relationships with land managers that are key to our future successes. It will be a difficult struggle and take some time before STC’s efforts may prove fruitful.
IMBA chapters are currently doing the vast majority of advocacy and access work at the local levels. If STC is eventually successful in passing their legislation it will likely be IMBA chapters doing the necessary outreach and hands-on work to give the STC’s legislation teeth, by working directly with local land managers to open trails under the authority of STC’s Human Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act of 2016 (HPWTMA).
Despite what has been claimed by the Wilderness Society and others opposed to bicycles in Wilderness, the STC bill doesn’t open ANY trails to bikes or mechanized maintenance. It allows the “most local” land managers feasible (likely district rangers and supervisors) to make those determinations on a case-by-case, trail-by-trail basis. That’s why IMBA chapters will need those strong relationships when and if the time comes.
You can bet the opposition to bikes will only get louder when that happens, both locally and nationally. It will be IMBA chapters with current, strong land manager relations that will be best positioned to follow through on any STC success. Land managers aren’t just going to open trails to bikes in wilderness areas if the STC bill is eventually enacted. If the STC bill does go through–and let’s be clear that we hope it eventually will–IMBA Chapters will need to actively engage with local land managers to open trails to bikes under the newly granted authority of STC’s legislation. Even then, those trail openings will probably require a lengthy NEPA process, and may come with restrictions. Permits, capacity limits, mandatory leave-no-trace classes, or other hurdles could be put in place as a part of that Wilderness access. Passing of the HPWTMA is just the starting point to opening trails in Wilderness.
In the meantime if people start choosing to drop support for IMBA chapters to support the STC, that will impede our ability to get things done now, such as bike parks, trail maintenance, new trails, and being a crucial voice in current land management and trail planning efforts. If CORBA/IMBA is weakened by an attrition of supporters now, it will hinder our ability in the future to build upon any STC success, and open trails currently closed to bikes by Wilderness designations.
One of the best things that STC is doing is bringing more attention to this major access issue. What saddens and frustrates us is that social media are misinterpreting some of IMBA’s responses, and turning this into an “us vs. them” situation, which will weaken our efforts on both fronts. We’d much preferred to have a more conciliatory tone from IMBA towards STC, even in the absence of outright support. IMBA has alienated a portion of their members through their statements and firm stance. That just doesn’t need to be so.
There is room–and a great need–for another group like STC to give the Wilderness issue the razor-sharp focus it will need to see through.
IMBA is a 501c3 and cannot directly lobby our government to introduce new legislation, endorse political candidates, and other restrictions. IMBA (and CORBA) are set up as 501c3 public benefit corporations, that can only influence existing laws and policies through public comments, broad-based partnerships with other organizations, and encouraging our members to speak up with their own comments and letters to elected representatives and land managers.
STC is set up as a 501c4, with the specific purpose of directly lobbying congress and our elected officials to enact change at the legislative level. They are able to do things that IMBA and CORBA cannot. It’s important to note that the Sierra Club is a 501c4, just like the STC. They have a companion 501c3, the Sierra Club Foundation, which collects tax-deductible donations that can then be used to support the lobbying efforts of their 501c4. They also operate under budgets 100 times larger than IMBA’s. Most mountain bikers are decidedly lackadaisical in their approach to advocacy–until their favorite trail is closed, or threatened to be closed. And as previously mentioned, while most mountain bikers support opening some trails in Wilderness to bicycles, the number of riders who may eventually utilize wilderness trails is likely much lower.
The mountain biking community has never had a 501c4 organization to stand behind before the STC came along. Just as the Sierra club leverages both a 501c3 and a 501c4 for various, but related, purposes, the mountain biking community has needed both a 501c3 and a 501c4 voice. As mentioned, where we see things have gone awry is that IMBA’s firm but neutral stance has been twisted and construed in social media and the blog/print media as an “us vs. them” situation.
IMBA’s approach is appropriate for IMBA. The STC approach is appropriate for STC. Together, they have brought more attention to this contentious debate, and hopefully helped engage a new cadre of concerned mountain bikers ready to advocate for continued access to trails–both inside and outside of Wilderness. Both organizations are advocating for increased trail access. They are just employing different strategies and tactics.
Let me re-iterate that in the long run, if STC is successful, strong IMBA chapters will be best positioned to make the changes that STC’s bill will authorize. We’ll then need to leverage our ongoing track record of being good land and trail stewards, and work side-by-side with local land managers to open trails in Wilderness areas. We’ll need to work hard to usher those requests through the NEPA process, and deal with the opposition to bikes that will inevitably emerge. If our voice is weakened by a lack of support now, we’ll be in a more difficult position to ask for trails to be opened under the STC bill’s authority in the future.
If STC is unsuccessful, IMBA chapters like CORBA will continue to work to make a difference, just as we have been doing for more than 29 years. We just hope to have the continued–and even increased– level of support we now get from our members.
But things at IMBA have changed somewhat. Their 2016 advocacy position clearly states that they will continue to fight more aggressively to keep trails open in the face of Wilderness proposals, wherever there are local chapters available to do the local on-the-ground work needed. They have been emboldened to take a firmer stance than ever before to prevent trail closures, within the constraints they operate under as a 501c3. Wilderness and environmental advocates are finding it increasingly difficult to pass Wilderness legislation when advocacy groups like IMBA and its chapters are directly and strongly opposed. IMBA is also investigating the merits of a legal challenge to recent trail access losses in the Bitterroot National Forest in Idaho. They have expressed a desire to legislatively adjust existing Wilderness boundaries to open trails that have been closed to bikes (without any changes to the Wilderness Act itself). But their stance falls short of lobbying for sweeping change at the legislative level, which is precisely what STC is positioned to do.
CORBA and IMBA have on a number of occasions asked for “language-based exemptions” to prohibitions on bikes on specific trails in new Wilderness proposals. We’ve usually been turned down on these requests as being “incompatible with the intent of the Wilderness Act” even though numerous language-based exemptions exist for purposes other than bicycle travel and recreation, and the STC’s contention that the “intent” of the Wilderness Act has been misinterpreted in current regulations. Yet what STC is proposing is making such language-based exemptions (or, more accurately, allowing Forest Service orders to authorize access) for bicycles and trail maintenance, an integral part of an amended Wilderness Act.
Let’s not have this issue divide us, weaken us, and allow us to be conquered. Our members can support both STC and CORBA/IMBA, and both organizations will be stronger for it. While we applaud the STC for their approach, CORBA will continue to work on efforts that have immediate, near-term benefit to all mountain bikers and our public lands: trail maintenance, management plan advocacy, currently pending bills, land manager relations, education, and stewardship.
We also hope that one day, CORBA will be in a position to ask our local land managers to open trails in current Wilderness areas to bikes, under the authority of STC’s legislation. But until then, we have to stay strong, stay united, and keep striving towards making immediate, short-term differences, happy in the knowledge that STC is working on a long-term strategy that most of our members agree would be a step in the right direction for all of us.
2015 has been one of the most active in CORBA’s history. There has been so much happening in our local mountains, in our sport, in our public lands, in the political landscape, and in bicycle advocacy in general. As always, CORBA has done its best to stay on top of the issues, to be leaders in the trail community, and to have a positive impact on our trails, our public lands, our community and our sport. Here’s a quick recap of what’s been happening this year, showing how your membership dollars and donations are being used to benefit all mountain bikers in the Los Angeles and Eastern Ventura Counties.
Puente Hills Landfill Meeting
Much has happened this year on the mountain bike advocacy front. One of the biggest issues has been the start of the process to develop a Management Plan for our year-old San Gabriel Mountains National Monument. The National Forest Foundation convened a Community Collaborative group to develop a broad base of support from a diverse range of stakeholders to help guide the Forest Service in its management of the Angeles National Forest and the SGMNM. CORBA has been involved from the start, in 2014 on the committee to establish the Collaborative, and this year as an active participant in the Collaborative. Forty-five diverse interests are represented, some of whom have traditionally found themselves at odds with our community. This has truly expanded our outreach and strengthened our place in the community.
We’re closely monitoring the development of the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Master Plan, which is expected to come out in draft form in 2016. We saw the Rim of the Valley Study completed. Legislation was introduced to create a new National Recreation Area, and expand our new National Monument. We’ve worked with legislators on a pending Wilderness bill, to ensure that it has minimum impact on mountain biking. We’re continuing to work with the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society to ensure that their efforts to protect our public lands do not impact our ability to enjoy them.
This year new e-bike legislation was introduced. Early drafts could have been interpreted to allow electric mountain bikes on non-motorized trails. We worked to clarify that this does not makes e-bike legal on trails. We’ll be watching the e-bike debate closely as they become more popular.
Outside the area, we’re keeping an eye on wilderness proposals in the Sierra Nevada mountains and BLM land swap proposals in the San Jacinto Mountains, both with the potential to close trails to bikes.
Last January the Forest Service allowed some experienced trail maintenance volunteers, who had been previously certified to use chainsaws at the “A” level, to step up their training to a “B” level. Under current regulations, A level sawyers are restricted to 8 inch trees or smaller, and must be supervised. B-level Sawyers are allowed to work unsupervised, on trees up to 24″ in diameter, and can supervise and work with A-level sawyers.
B Level Chainsaw Certification Class of 2015
CORBA President Steve Messer, and volunteer Mike McGuire both received their B level certification, and have been putting them to use all year. MWBA volunteers Mitch Marich, Brad Benam and Erik Hillard also received their A level certification, along with several other individuals and volunteers from other organizations and areas outside Los Angeles.
Together the CORBA and MWBA sawyer team has been cutting trees from trails all year. We’ve cut trees from Brown Mountain, El Prieto, Sunset Ridge, Gabrielino, Strawberry Peak, Colby Canyon, Mount Lowe East, Sam Merrill and Silver Moccasin trails. Six years after the Station Fire, downed trees are becoming a major and constant problem.
Our biggest project has been Vetter Mountain trail. This was a favorite of local mountain bikers, as the first descent of the classic Chilao Loop (or, more accurately, the Chilao Figure-8). The area was one of the most heavily impacted areas of the forest by the Station Fire. Drought has slowed the area’s recovery, and there are still thousands of dead trees waiting to fall.
We began in early spring 2015, first clearing the Charlton Flats loop road of more than two dozen downed trees just to get to the bottom of the Vetter Mountain Trail and Silver Moccasin trail. We cleared all the deadfall from the lower section of Vetter through to the first road crossing. There were many trees beyond our chainsaw certification level, the largest being just over 50 inches in diameter. These were taken care of by Little Tujunga Hot Shots Captain Greg Stenmo, whose support we were grateful to have.
After the summer heat and when fire danger levels and wind conditions allowed, on October 3rd CORBA and USFS volunteers Mike and Robin McGuire returned to begin work on the next section of the trail. In a day’s work, they were only able to clear the first hundred feet of the trail, with the sheer number of trees stacked like Chinese pickup sticks.
We returned on October 8th. In the five days since Mike and Robin were up there, another four trees had fallen across the road. Finally getting to the trail, we began cutting downed trees, poodle dog bush and buckthorn from the overgrown tread. In places it was impossible to see any remnant of trail through the brush and deadfall, so having been familiar with the trail in its pre-fire glory was a must. The time lapse below gives a pretty good indication of what’s been involved in clearing the trail. This is six hours of work compressed to nine minutes.
We returned on October 23, and November 5. On November 5 we started from the top of the trail, near the site of the old lookout and worked our way down. It was a glorious moment for us to finally have cut and cleared over 150 trees from Vetter Mountain trail, Charlton trail, and the Charlton Loop road. After finishing, we went back and inspected the trail from top to bottom, and found a dozen more trees fallen in areas we’d previously cleared.
Once again we returned on December 17, first clearing downed trees off the road, then several new trees that had fallen across Vetter and Charlton trails. Afterwards we joined the Chilao hotshots crew, who were clearing downed trees from Silver Moccasin trail after the particularly strong windstorms of December. With our help, they were able to get the job finished in one day.
The trail remains closed to the public. There are still too many dead trees that have been rotting away for six years, waiting to fall every time the wind blows. More than once, when we finished our day’s chainsaw work as the afternoon winds started blowing, we heard more trees falling. Because of these dangers, we are not willing to take in volunteer crews to begin restoring the trail. Since winds have been blowing steadily this past month (over 70mph the week before Christmas), there are probably many more trees down again.
Currently the Forest Service, along with Fire Crews and us as Volunteer Sawyers, are developing a plan to clear remaining standing trees in the trail and road corridors, so that they don’t continue to fall across the trail every time the wind blows. Currently crews are doing that along the Santa Clara Divide Road so that it can be reopened to vehicles next year.
We hope to begin restoration work on the Vetter Mountain trail next year, after we finish the Ken Burton trail. Stay tuned for details.
The Ken Burton trail goes right up the middle of this picture. It’s hard to find.
Earlier this year, CORBA used a generous grant from REI to help fund the restoration of the Gabrielino trail to Oakwilde Campground and the Ken Burton trail junction. Pooling resources with the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, CORBA helped fund a private contractor, Bellfree Contractors, to oversee volunteers and Conservation Corps crews, taking the lead on the project. The trailwork needed was so extensive it required the review and approval of Forest Service staff engineers. Much of the trail was completely gone, having been swept away in a massive landslide, or gouged into a ten-foot-deep, twelve-foot wide gully where once you could step over a trickle of water as it crossed the trail. That work was begun last spring, and Los Angeles Conservation Corps continue to work on the Gabrielino in the area. The Trail remains closed to the public beyond Paul Little campground/Brown Mountain Dam while restoration efforts continue.
Meanwhile, we were given permission to begin work on the Ken Burton trail earlier in summer. Work began in October with the trail being inspected, and in many cases searched for using older GPS tracks, by CORBA volunteers. On Saturday, November 7th six volunteers came out to begin work on the trail. Just getting to the work site requires a 2000′ climb over 7 miles, with several steep, loose sections that are difficult without carrying tools. In one day’s work, we were able to clear brush from about a quarter mile of trail, and restore tread on just over half of that. The tread, once cleared of brush, is generally filled with loose slough that’s easy to clear, but is otherwise intact. A few retaining wall structures near the top have failed and will require digging out the old materials–iron posts, steel mesh, wire and screen–and replacing them.
After 7 miles and 2000′, the Saturday crew arrives with tools in tow
On Sunday, November 8, we worked with the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association’s and had a crew of about 18 come out to begin work. Several volunteers stepped up to haul bob trailers full of tools, no easy feat with over 2000′ of climbing. With hedge clippers doing the initial clearing, followed by a rake or Mcleod to clear the cut brush, followed by a loppers and pick-mattocks to pull roots, and finished off with a nice outsloping by Mcleod, we had it down to a system. The brush on day two was much thicker than the day before, but we were able to clear about another quarter mile of trail, and with the extra hands, do another quarter mile of basic treadwork.
Brush was thick and the trail difficult to find in places.
After both days of trailwork the crews enjoyed a great meal and some local hospitality. Many thanks to everyone who came out for the work. This trail is special to many people, having been built by mountain bikers, the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, in the early 90’s. Special kudos to Brad, Burt, Mike, Robin, and Steve who came out both days!
We left almost a half mile of the trail looking like this in one weekend.
We’ll be back out on the trail this Sunday, November 22, again with Mount Wilson Bicycling Association. And if there’s enough interest (and the weather/fire danger cooperates), another crew could head up on Saturday instead (or in addition!). At the moment, we’re approaching capacity on Mount Wilson Bicycling Association’s Facebook Event. For that reason this weekend’s trailwork isn’t being added to CORBA’s meetup calendar. However, a tentative third weekend on Sunday, December 13 is in the works. Stay tuned for details. The Forest Service requires our volunteers to wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves and hard hats which we supply (and with the thick brush, all that gear is a good idea). These can be carried up in backpacks for the ride up and changed into before we start work.
Some of the crew prepare to head back down after a solid days work.
Ken Burton trail is closed to the public. Although we’ve started on it, it’s still dead-end with miles of hike-a-bike through heavy unrideable brush and poison oak once you get beyond our short restored section. People have gotten lost trying to find the trail. We’ll continue working on Ken Burton through the winter and coming Spring, with the goal of having it, and the Gabrielino back to Paul Little and JPL, ready to open by the end of Spring 2016. The more involved you stay, the more likely the Forest Service will open the Brown/Burton/Gab loop, an old favorite of many long-time mountain bikers.
How we get it done. Bob trailers can haul tools for six people.
This act goes to great lengths in protecting existing water, property, utility and infrastructure rights, and expressly prohibits the use of Eminent Domain to acquire property. It establishes an Advisory Committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which includes water agencies, infrastructure, local governments, conservancies, environmentalists, recreation including OHV, and other stakeholders. It doesn’t, however, specifically mention bicycles. It also establishes a partnership committee to support the NRA.
The bill authorizes the National Park Service to establish the San Gabriel National Recreation Area as a new unit of the NPS. It allows them to enter into partnerships and collaborate with existing and willing land managers with the proposed boundary. This includes the Army Corps of Engineers who own and operate much of the flood control infrastructure along the river. It permits and encourages collaborations and partnerships to be leveraged to improve habitat, recreation, resource protection, water quality, infrastructure or any of the purposes for which the NRA will be established ( as specified in Section 102(A) of the bill). The NPS can only acquire land from willing sellers and enter into partnership with willing entities, agencies, and nonprofits. Despite claims to the contrary, this is not a “land grab.”
The bill gives the National Park Service three years to develop a management plan and a visitor services plan, in conjunction with the Advisory Committee (and as required by NEPA, the public). There are however two words that appear highly subjective. In Section 108 (a)(3)(B) In the development of a Visitor Services Plan, the Secretary Shall consider the demand for various types of recreation (including hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, and the use of motorized and mechanized vehicles) where permissible and appropriate; [Emphasis added]. The word “appropriate” in this context is too subjective, without any reference to who makes the determination for appropriateness, and by what criteria. We know there are many who deem bicycles inappropriate anywhere, and we would hope that any determination of appropriateness of bicycles or any other form of recreation be transparent and include public involvement beyond the Advisory Committee and Partnership.
Also required is the establishment of the San Gabriel National Recreation Partnership, consisting of the many land managers, utility managers, and local governments within the boundary. The partnership includes “One designee of San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Community.” We wonder if this is a referral to the Community Collaborative, on which CORBA President Steve Messer serves to represent bicycle recreation interests.
That original SGWMSR Study and the Alternative D supported by CORBA included most of the San Gabriel Watershed within the Angeles National Forest. This study concluded in in 2011, and was the precursor to our National Monument. In early 2014, Chu introduced legislation to establish a National Recreation Area in accordance with the study, but it was clear it was not going to make it out of committee in the congressional climate at that time. This urged her and other advocates to seek alternative protection for the San Gabriel Watershed, ie. to have President Obama declare a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument (SGMNM), which included all of the San Gabriel Watershed, and then some.
One of our concerns with Alternative D of the SGWSRS was how it was going to be funded. At the time, in 2011, the Nation’s economy was in a much sorrier state than it is today, so the financial and administrative burdens a new NPS unit would create were, and still remain a concern. While we are doing better economically, we all know that our public land agencies are all dealing with reduced budgets and severe cutbacks over the past decades. As we commented in 2011, we would hope that funding be secured from additional sources that do not impact or reduce the budgets of other NPS or USFS units, including our local Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and Angeles National Forest/San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
Another concern we had with the SGWMSRS was that Forest Service land outside the San Gabriel Watershed Study area under Alternative D would receive reduced services and resources from the Forest Service. We didn’t want to see all the priorities going to the National Recreation Area. Much of the area left out of the National Monument was not in the original San Gabriel Watershed Special Resource Study, which some have speculated is a reason for the exclusion from the National Monument. With our SGMNM, we have the same concerns: that areas outside the Monument under Forest Service control would be the forgotten stepchild of the National Monument. While much attention is being placed on the National Monument, we are also seeing benefits to the rest of the Forest.
Chu’s legislation aims to correct the omission of those Forest Service lands from the SGMNM. Title 2 of HR3820 appears to expand the boundary of the existing SGMNM to include all of the Angeles National Forest south of the 14 and east of the 5. It makes no other claims and places no additional burdens on the Forest Service with respect to additional time to prepare a Management Plan. We are beginning to see the impacts of the additional funding the National Monument designation has brought to the Angeles National Forest. Thus far, we see it as good for the Forest. While we do have concerns that when and if the current bill is enacted, the Monument Management plan currently in development will need to be revised once again. Chu’s bill simply applies whatever existing National Monument management plan is in place or in development to the expanded Monument. While sounding simple in theory, the burden of changing boundaries and evaluating the additional cultural, historical, ecological and recreational resources within the expansion will take additional time.
The expansion of the existing National Monument in HR3820 already has much support within the community. Tim Brick from the Arroyo Seco Foundation has been especially vocal about his disappointment with the way the current National Monument boundaries were drawn, and that it happened without any public process or explanation of the reasoning. His feelings are widely echoed in the community, especially now that we are seeing additional funds being allocated to the Forest Service since the National Monument designation.
Our initial thoughts on the bill are positive but guarded; we need more time to digest the content of the bill and its long-term ramifications. Its intentions are in line with those of CORBA’s mission: enhancing recreation, and protecting the lands on which we recreate. If you have strong feelings about the bill please let us know as we formulate our official position.
Map of the proposed San Gabriel National Recreation Area and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Expansion: