I grew up at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, in a foothill community. I saw the mountains every day from the front yard or from the schoolyard. From second grade through college, they were in the background. Our main street paralleled the San Gabriel range and all northbound streets led you to steep mountainsides. Yet, I never went to the Angeles National Forest — never.
As an adult, I noticed them from downtown LA’s Union Station. I saw them from the stands at Dodgers games. On New Year’s Day, the entire country saw them on television, looming above the Rose Parade. They were snowcapped in winter and blooming and lush in spring; many shades of green in summer and multiple autumn hues of rust and brown in the fall. I used them to navigate. North is toward the mountains. Mountains will lead me home. I still didn’t visit.
One day I was looking for some low-cost family fun. I found Eaton Canyon Nature Center in the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, which hosted weekly family walks. I showed up, kid in tow, and had a blast. I eventually became a docent/naturalist for Eaton Canyon.
The San Gabriels are rich with wildlife, history, scenery and gifts of clean air and drinking water. They span an area from the Golden State (5) Freeway to Interstate 15 and cross county lines. The more walks I led the more I realized that even though the San Gabriel Mountains could be seen from almost any point in the Los Angeles Basin, they are often unknown to many people. They may be visible from “everywhere,” but they apparently need an image makeover.
If President Obama protects the forest as a national monument, that would help “rebrand” it as the worthy outdoor and recreation destination it truly is. Monument designation would help bring the mountains the attention and services they have needed for so many years.
Judging from my personal experience as a docent, a majority of the people who attend my walks have never been into the San Gabriel Mountains. I make it a point to ask in order to tailor the experience to the group. I cover very basic things, such as leaving no trace and knowing the water cycle; things that every Angeleno should know but may have forgotten in our hustle-and-bustle daily lives.
I’ve volunteered my time with other organizations that take youth deeper into the mountains and to the San Gabriel River. Imagine standing along a trash-strewn bank and pointing out that 30 percent of our drinking water comes from this river. It makes a very strong impact.
A question I usually field is about how to use the trash cans. (Bear-proof handles sometimes confuse humans too.) The directions are in pictogram form and many are not legible due to sun damage. The signs that explain what type of fires are permitted or ask visitors not to build dams are also weathered and spread so far apart that they are not as effective as they should be.
Our 1.2-billion-year-old mountains need better visitor services and more rangers for safety, as well as interpretive, educational and stewardship programs.
These days I take my nephews (ages 4 and 5) with me every chance I get. They are now the second generation to grow up in the little foothill city. They go to the mountains. The mountains and the rivers are their playground. They can identify two types of sage: buckwheat and sagebrush. They clean up micro trash to save the birds. They pull invasive mustard to save native plants. They enjoy fresh air and respect the outdoors. They ask me to take them into the forest.
If you ask them what the allure of the mountains is, they will very enthusiastically tell you, “We can run and play in the river. We can stand in the waterfall. We can see woodpeckers …” Their list is endless.
I hope that when I’m nothing but a memory to them, they will take their families to the mountains and say, “We are thankful our forest is a national monument. We always knew it was awesome.” n
Brenda Kyle is a foothills resident, San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy graduate and a docent at Eaton Canyon. Contact her at email@example.com.