Trail users say transient population at campground above JPL poses safety concern

Trail users say transient population at campground above JPL poses safety concern
What seems to be an altar located about two miles into the Gabrielino Trail, next to the Arroyo Seco in the Angeles National Forest north of Altadena. (Raul Roa / La Cañada Valley Sun)

For nearly two decades, Altadena Town Councilwoman Dorothy Wong has hiked and biked up the Gabrielino Trail northeast of La Cañada's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

But like many who frequent the Angeles National Forest, she's begun to notice an influx of homeless people.


"I always saw it as a place for recreation and camping," Wong said. "Within these past five years or less, there are people coming in who are clearly homeless and trying to live there."

In June, deputies with the Crescenta Valley sheriff's station responded to a call from hikers who reported a makeshift encampment near the Gould Mesa campground whose occupants, they said, had confronted them with knives and machetes. By the time authorities arrived, the camp had been vacated.

Nancy Rose lives in El Monte and boards her horse at the Rose Bowl Riders club in Hahamongna Watershed Park. She said she's stopped using the Gabrielino Trail.

"I don't feel safe anymore," she said, describing fires, human feces and untethered dogs that spook horses. "It's really not fair to the public to have something like that happening — and nobody's doing anything."

Federal regulations prohibit camping outside designated areas, as well as installation of permanent camping facilities. Angeles National Forest campgrounds impose a 14-day stay limit per trip and cap campers at 30 days per year. But such rules can be difficult to enforce, given the area's jurisdictional jumble of federal, county and local oversight.

Gerard Shadrick of Altadena said he visits the Gabrielino Trail with 9-year-old daughter Talulah, who likes to catch tadpoles in nearby creeks.

Last weekend, the pair found a plucked chicken carcass with its head floating in the stream, while two dozen smashed raw eggs surrounded the area. Nearby, glass prayer candles glowed in one of several burn spots littered with smudged rolls of tobacco.

"This is not cool," Shadrick said. "My daughter plays in that stream, and so do all these other kids. It's a public health issue."

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service turned down an interview request, instead offering a statement from Jamahl Butler of the Los Angeles River Ranger District.

"The Angeles National Forest is aware of issues related to unauthorized occupancy of federal lands at Gould Mesa. We are working with our partner agencies to develop effective strategies to address these issues," the statement said. "The Forest Service remains committed to resource protection and public safety consistent with our mission and available resources."

Wong said she recognizes the clash between recreational users and forest dwellers as one more manifestation of Los Angeles County's growing homeless population.

"The situation is bigger than just kicking people out," she said. "We have to do something, and that something is not easy, whatever it is."

Cardine writes for Times Community News