Elizabeth Blackwelder, a lifelong equestrian and trails conservationist whose dogged persistence and love of nature led to the creation of a complex and beautiful network of trails throughout the Foothills, passed away in her home in the early morning hours of Jan. 15. She was 93.
Her death came after a long period of illness, through which Blackwelder continued to work to build and improve the city’s trails system, according to her daughter, Glendale resident Lenora Blackwelder.
Liz Blackwelder grew up in Atherton, Calif., surrounded by farm animals and horses, and was said to have first ridden a pony as early as age 3. All who knew her recognized her as a “true horse woman” who steadfastly believed in the importance of accessing wilderness and connecting with nature.
Although her love of horseback riding and being out in nature on trails was a lifetime one, Blackwelder’s personal impact on La Cañada Flintridge’s trails formally began in 1974, when she became a founding member of the La Cañada Flintridge Trails Council. As a member, and president from 1991 through 1998, she played a crucial role in a decades-long effort to acquire 40 acres of open space in La Cañada for the creation of a network of trails that could be enjoyed by walkers and hikers, bicyclists and fellow equestrians.
The Trails Council partnered with the Santa Monica Conservancy to create what would later become Cherry Canyon Park. In 1994, a .38-mile trail segment was named Liz’s Loop in Blackwelder’s honor.
“She realized how important it was for people to be out in nature, to have that time to look around and appreciate it,” said Randy Strapazon, retired Trails Council member and past president. “I think that’s why she never gave up. She always said, ‘Patience is a virtue, but persistence is a necessity.’”
Although an ulcer on her leg forced Blackwelder to give up riding in 2004, she continued to work tirelessly for the completion of a 12-mile loop trail connecting both sides of the city. In 2007, she rose from her wheelchair to be the first to walk across the Flint Canyon Trail in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. In 2011, her ultimate goal was realized at the opening of the Trails Council Link, an 800-foot pathway connecting Verdugo Boulevard and Descanso Drive and the last segment of the loop to be completed.
More recently, Blackwelder sought to create a watering hole rest area with a bubbler fountain at the summit of Cherry Canyon, which she had previously named “Ultimate Destination Point.” She donated $35,000 in 2009 to jump-start the project, which was later matched by donations from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Santa Monica Conservancy, Southern California Edison and private donors. The La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted to complete the project in September 2012, and the rest area was opened the following spring; a 93-year-old Blackwelder expressed her gratitude in a July 2013 celebration.
“She used her resources,” Strapazon said. “All these agencies realized she was legitimate, and they supported her.”
Blackwelder was also a member of the Flintridge Riding Club, and a charter member and past president of the Flintridge La Cañada Guild of Huntington Memorial Hospital, which for years ran a Children’s Horse Show benefiting the hospital. In 2006, the LCF Trails Council presented the Guild with a perpetual trophy in Blackwelder’s honor. In 2013, the La Cañada resident received a Lifetime Volunteer Achievement Award at the California Trails & Greenways Conference.
Those who remember Blackwelder as a friend and mentor recalled her frontier spirit and devotion to California history and wildlife. She was well-known for writing all her notes in a flawless form of calligraphy and keeping an impeccable vocabulary. Strapazon remembered Blackwelder as “a unique human being, in all the good ways.”
Lenora Blackwelder recounted her mother’s exploits, from a one-year family trip by camper in 1969 that took them through the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America to an 3,000-mile bicentennial horseback ride in 1976 from the Pasadena Rose Parade to Valley Forge National Historical Park in Pennsylvania.
“It took her nearly three-quarters of a year to get to Valley Forge, and when she was done, she shipped her horse [Chungo] back to La Cañada via a jet plane,” her daughter recalled.
Caroline Craven, current president of the Trails Council, said perhaps the best way to honor Blackwelder’s memory would be for people to continue her work.
“I don’t think she’d want some plaque stuck somewhere. The continued effort to keep our trails safe and usable for everyone—I think that’s what she’d want,” Craven said.
Blackwelder is survived by daughter Lenora; sons Steven, Robert and Clyde; daughter-in-law Ingrid; and grandchildren Jaemin and Natalie. A memorial service will be held by invitation only. The family requests that donations in her name be sent to the La Cañada Flintridge Guild of the Huntington Memorial Hospital (www.childrenshorseshow.org/about.html), the La Cañada Flintridge Trails Council (www.lcftrails.org) or any equestrian organization of the donor’s choice.