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Hikers savor final days of access to popular trail near Hollywood sign as some locals protest closure

Despite living in Southern California all of her life, Shanell Noji had never seen the Hollywood sign — up close. So on a gloriously clear Saturday, she slipped on her hiking boots and set out from her home in Orange on a photo-seeking mission.

“Time to check it off the list,” Noji, 28, a physical therapist and hockey coach, said of her adventure to the famous sign perched atop the Hollywood Hills. Sadie, a teacup Maltese, and Champ, a miniature schnauzer, accompanied her, along with her hiking partner, Blake Mohrman.

On Tuesday, the city will close a Beachwood Drive gate that provides hikers access to a popular trail near the old landmark. The decision follows a legal battle that a Griffith Park horseback-riding facility waged against the city over hikers trekking near its Beachwood Drive ranch.

The plan has divided area residents, who have been at odds over whether the residential street should be a gateway to the hillside park.

On Saturday, streams of avid fans of the iconic sign trekked along the picturesque path, with selfie sticks and frisky canines in tow, intent on capturing precious moments.

“This sign — it’s pretty much what everyone thinks of when they come to L.A. Everyone wants to get there for a picture,” said Mohrman, 32. “Why would you shut the simplest access to it?”

Screenwriter Jason Pagan, 36, said he hikes to the sign regularly, especially when stuck on a script. “It’s like preventing quick access to the Statue of Liberty,” he said while grabbing a bite at Beachwood Cafe. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Outside the restaurant on North Beachwood Drive, resident Leif Roswold, 33, rushed toward the trailhead, where members of local residents associations organized a rally to protest what he called “a ridiculous move. People who aren’t from here are making decisions for people with homes here.”

Roswold cited the Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables lawsuit against the city as part of the problem. The ranch has long had a legal agreement allowing people to walk through a 20-foot-wide strip of land. In their lawsuit, property owners complained that the city began funneling hikers onto its “exclusive easement road” two years ago by advertising that pedestrians could safely access the area using a new gate.

But Roswold said “the horse ranch should embrace the neighborhood or move somewhere else.”

In February, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge found that hikers could not be barred from using the easement. However, she concluded that the city had channeled thousands of pedestrians toward the ranch every month, blocking access to the property and interfering with its use.

The judge said L.A. could allow hikers to access Hollyridge Trail as close as possible to either the beginning of the Sunset Ranch easement — near the gate at the end of Beachwood Drive — or another access point that was previously used but is currently blocked.

Sarajane Schwartz was among a group of area residents who sued the city in a separate case, contending that Los Angeles officials needed to halt access to the trails there in order to properly analyze fire risks and other hazards.

Canyon Drive is a much safer route for tourists, Schwartz said earlier this week. Unlike on Beachwood Drive, she added, “no one has to walk in the street.... It’s a dangerous situation up here.”

All the ruckus escaped sightseer Megha Tyagi, 33, on her first visit to Los Angeles from Telangana, a state in southern India. At 7 a.m. Saturday, she caught the Metro from downtown L.A. to Hollywood to indulge in a solo walk, before the onslaught of traffic. By lunchtime, the graphic designer looked around her at the sweltering crowd.

“What if I had come next weekend?” she wondered aloud. “What if I missed my chance?”

Staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

anh.do@latimes.com

Twitter: @newsterrier

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