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Erosion on forest road needs tending to now
This trench runs down the center of the one-lane Mt. Lukens fire road. At its maximum it is 2.5 feet deep and 3 feet across, leaving so little space on either side that every vehicle that passes widens it. (Courtesy of Reg Green)

The recent rains and traffic have deepened, widened and made even more hazardous the massive ruts on the dirt road from the Angeles Forest Fire station on Angeles Crest Highway to Mt. Lukens. A little more erosion could close this route to the cluster of antennae on the top of the mountain that facilitate communications all over Southern California about everything from cellphones and television to emergency services for fires, mudslides and road accidents.

Two of the gouges, almost at the start of the road, are now 2 feet deep and 3 feet across: A slight misjudgment by a driver here and his vehicle could topple over. Another rut that ran harmlessly down the edge has widened so that the intact portion of the road is only just big enough for a vehicle to pass, and even that is wearing away fast. At another point weather has hollowed out a cave under an already damaged part of the road so that it is only a matter of time before another chunk of it disappears down a 20-foot drop.

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Part of the roadbed on the route to Mt. Lukens is hanging in space. Writer Reg Green muses, "How long before it goes down that sheer 20-foot drop?"
Part of the roadbed on the route to Mt. Lukens is hanging in space. Writer Reg Green muses, "How long before it goes down that sheer 20-foot drop?" (Courtesy of Reg Green)

More stressful than the rains is the pounding the road is taking from the increased number of maintenance vehicles that now service the communication towers. Even the SUVs that are now a normal sight on what a year or two ago was almost devoid of traffic shave off another layer of soil every time they pass. But the big rigs loaded with heavy equipment are pummeling it in ways its builders never allowed for.

This is still a deserted way through the forest with only a handful of hikers and bikers on any day, and it is true these deep cuts are found in only one or two places, since much of the road is built on hard rock. But there are enough stretches alongside gullies or on soft earth that are so torn up that soon no vehicle will be able to get through.

Two years ago a vigorous attempt was made to deal with the worst problems. Crews wedged large rocks and tree stumps into the ruts, and heavy equipment pounded down soil and gravel around them. Rows of sandbags were laid to protect the most vulnerable spots. It looked like an impressive restoration.

The heavy winter rains of 2016-17 destroyed that illusion. In just a few weeks all that remained were the rocks and tree stumps lying in chasms that were almost indistinguishable from how they had looked before. The sandbags lasted longer, diverting water streaming off the hillsides from causing even greater damage, but in time they were ripped open by traffic. Now only vestiges remain.

The end of the rainy season used to be the time when road crews had more pressing things to worry about. Not any longer.

Reg Green is a La Cañada Flintridge resident. He can be reached via www.nicholasgreen.org

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