San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Tuesday June 22, 2010 4:21:49 PM PDT

Hikers, campers find alternate areas to recreate after Station Fire
By Brenda Gazzar Staff Writer

Mt. Wilson Toll Road 1
Sierra Club's Pasadena Section takes their Thursday evening conditioning hike to Henninger Flats in Angeles National Forest June 17, 2010 as a hiker and her dog complete their hike. The group meets at the Pinecrest Drive gate at Thursday nights at 7 p.m. for the two hour hike along the Old Mt. Wilson Toll Road except during the months of July and August. The hike opened last year after a four year closure due to a landslide. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/SXCITY)
ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST - Don Bremner of Pasadena and his fellow Sierra Club hikers have hardly given up their passion for the sport, despite last year's devastating Station Fire.

Since large swaths of the Angeles National Forest were closed last fall, the outdoor and environmental organization has had to cancel, change the location, or alter transportation routes on many of its scheduled hikes in the area.

"We just make do with what there is," said Bremner, who is chairman of the forest committee of the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club. "There are quite a few trails that were not affected either in what we call the front countries, from Altadena to Sierra Madre, and there are other trails you have to drive farther for ... and trails in the Verdugo Mountain and Glendale" areas.

With the official entry of summer this week, and July Fourth celebrations around the corner, hikers, campers and picnickers are not expected to be deterred by closures due to the Station Fire, forest officials and nature enthusiasts say.

Seventy-five percent of the forest remains open to the public. And while the bulk of the burned areas remain closed for public safety, one-third of the Angeles Forest's approximately 294,000 acres that were closed last fall as a result of the fire have now been reopened, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

The wildfire, which broke out last August and killed two Los Angeles County firefighters, was the largest blaze in modern L.A. County history.

"Now we are entering the warmer summer months and we can take a look at the closure and refine it, to pull it back a bit with some of the outlying recreational opportunities and reopen (them) to the public," said Sherry Rollman, a spokeswoman for the Angeles National Forest.

Among the recreation sites newly accessible are the Magic Mountain Wilderness, vast majorities of Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness, Millard Campground, Chilao Recreation Area Campground and the Bandito, Horse Flats and Meadow Loop recreation areas.

Many of these sites were closed not because they had been scorched, but because they were considered risky areas for mudslides during a rainy season, Rollman said. As a result, they could be closed again during future rainy seasons, she said.

Angeles Crest Highway from La Canada Flintridge to Mount Wilson Road remains closed as result of severe damage caused by heavy rains following the fire, and is expected to reopen by mid to late summer, according to Caltrans.

U.S. Forest Service roads in the burned area of the forest such as Big Tujunga Canyon Road, Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road and Little Tujunga Road are also still closed. All county roads in that area have been repaired and are now open, said Bob Spencer, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.

Despite the damage, the Angeles National Forest is going to continue to be "one of the most visited National Forests in the country," said Daniel Rossman, a Los Angeles-based regional associate with the Wilderness Society.

"It gets more visitors than Yellowstone National Park," Rossman said. "It's pretty phenomenal."

As a result of the Station Fire, many visitors have shifted farther eastward towards areas that have not been closed off, he said.

On the Fourth of July, for instance, it's anticipated that "huge numbers" of visitors will enjoy recreation along the San Gabriel River, including the popular West, North and East Forks located north of Azusa, Rossman said. The West Fork, which was recently reopened, is considered a great family destination and includes a national scenic bikeway.

"I think that a lot of people are discovering new places and new ways to enjoy the forest," he said.

Because the areas along the river will attract large crowds, visitors may want to arrive early on holiday weekends.

"In some cases, you have limited parking," Rossman said. "Folks are going to have to get up earlier in the morning to even go out there."

Even farther East is the Cucamonga Wilderness Area above the city of Rancho Cucamonga, which has become a popular hiking destination since it was unaffected by the Station Fire, he said.

Meanwhile, Angeles National Forest officials say they are developing "a cohesive restoration plan" to create a healthier, more sustainable eco-system involving water, vegetation and wildlife. A team of experts, including biologists and geologists, has recently evaluated the area, Rollman said.

Details of the plan are expected to be announced later this summer, she said.

"This was a large fire," she said. "It runs (through) a wide variety of landscapes, so we need to make sure we get a comprehensive plan in place to phase in recovery - part of that is funding, volunteers, and access."

The Student Conservation Association, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, has just launched the "Angeles Wildfire Recovery Project," a three-month recovery effort consisting of about 30 high school and college-age students, including some from Pasadena, South Pasadena and Altadena.

A total of about 5,000 hours of work are expected to be completed on the forest through the $200,000 effort, said Jay Watson, the Oakland-based regional director of the Student Conservation Association.

Some of the students will be organizing and supervising citizen volunteers. "A lot of damage was done to recreation facilities on the forest, so this project will help repair those for public use and enjoyment," Watson said. "On the other hand, we are engaging local youth and other young adults in the restoration of a national forest following the biggest fire in that forest's history."

In addition, the Sierra Club is launching its Angeles Forest Restoration Project on July 10, in which volunteers, under the direction of the Forest Service, will work every second and fourth Saturday through October to restore eight trails damaged as a result of the fire.

"We look forward to getting back on the trails we used to hike," Bremner said.

For more information about open recreation areas in the Angeles National Forest, call 818-899-1900 or 626-574-5200.
626-578-6300, ext. 4496

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