Known jointly as The Lakes, it is a community rich with tales of stagecoach stops, bandit hideaways -- even legendary lake monsters. But a welcome sign sums up residents' greatest pride: "The Lakes: Where Nature Is Your Neighbor."
"That's why we chose to live here," said Allaire Koslo, the community's honorary mayor, whose family has lived in the area for more than 40 years.
And that's why there is panic over the possible sale of part of Elizabeth Lake and adjacent property, the community's centerpiece. If purchased, it could sprout commercial enterprises that some fear would spoil The Lakes' bucolic setting.
It's easy to understand the attraction to a buyer. The property includes 155 acres of open water and wetlands, more than two miles of shoreline and 16 acres of commercial land.
Swimming, fishing, kayaking and bird watching are common at Elizabeth, the largest natural lake in Los Angeles County and the headwaters of the Santa Clara River
The lake's western half belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, which maintains a daytime picnic area and bans high-impact activities, such as hunting, jet skiing and the use of motorized vessels of more than 10 horsepower.
The land on the other side of the lake belongs to Lancaster-based Ridgetop Ranch Properties, which after two decades of ownership has put it on the market for $19.5 million.
Mark Simon, the listing agent, said the land actually has considerable value just as it is: open and mostly unspoiled.
The wetlands, marsh and riparian forest provide habitat for more than 138 wildlife species. It is home to the declining tricolored blackbird, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and other "special status" species such as the Western patch-nosed snake.
For a developer, that's not necessarily bad news. The land could be used as a "mitigation bank," meaning the owner could earn development credits elsewhere by improving or simply restoring the wetlands area. Such credits can even be sold.
But the site for sale is also zoned for resort and recreational uses, such as hunting, fishing, water skiing and jet skiing, Simon said.
"That's the reason there is more of a pressing sense of urgency. That's why we feel so threatened," said Louisa Stephen, an artist and conservationist who lives in the area.
"Development, encroachment . . . that's the No. 1 issue right now," said Jim Walker, president of the Lakes Town Council, an advisory group that represents residents before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
It's unclear if there are any would-be buyers, but residents aren't taking any chances.
Last year, the Town Council voted to form the Lakes and Valley Conservancy, with Stephen as its president. The group is seeking nonprofit status and researching ways to raise funds to purchase the lake property itself.
In June, the Board of Supervisors took steps to protect the area, including banning billboards and public streetlights, and requiring lots or parcels to be at least 2 1/2 acres.
The community is now home to about 3,400 mostly middle-income residents. They live in houses ranging from cabins to rambling ranches that sit on roads with names such as Walkatop and Lookabout. There are two places to eat in town -- and three places to drink.
There's the Country Market grocery store, a beauty salon, two churches, a firehouse, a post office and an elementary school.