Myron Reed, who lives near the northern edge of the Fryman Canyon Natural Area in Studio City, remembers when the park was something of a local treasure. Long ago, he said, it was a quiet place where neighbors took their children for afternoon walks.
In recent years, however, it has been mostly a source of fear.
“It’s getting pretty dangerous,” Reed said. “I don’t go up there at all anymore. I wouldn’t do it if you paid me.”
Reed’s frustration is shared by others living on the border of the 69-acre, state-owned park off Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the Santa Monica Mountains. They say the land has for too long been an attraction for unsavory visitors who gather at night to drink beer, take drugs and carouse.
Since the late ‘60s, the neighbors say, the visitors have ranged from “flower children” to boisterous local youths. And for just as long, the neighbors say, they have struggled to discourage this traffic.
In the latest unsettling episode, state police reported early this week that five dead dogs had been found in the park, along with graffiti that might be a sign of gang activity.
Lt. Robert Boyd, a spokesman for the state police, said four of the dead animals appeared to have been mutilated, and another appeared to have been hanged.
It is not clear who is responsible for the killings or whether the park is, in fact, attracting gangs, Boyd said. But state police announced that they would soon begin a random series of nighttime sweeps through the park in an effort to discourage illegal activity.
From 12 to 18 juveniles were questioned in the park over the Memorial Day weekend, during the first of the sweeps, Boyd said.
All the same, area residents like Reed are concerned. Some point to instances of robbery and threats. All say a change is long overdue.
“I don’t think a neighbor has been up there for years,” said a 39-year-old woman who lives in house at the northern edge of the park. “I’m uncomfortable working in my yard. . . . This whole thing is out of control.”
Joseph T. Edmiston, director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said the Fryman Canyon Natural Area is unique in urban Los Angeles. The park is split by the only natural spring lying east of Interstate 405 in the Santa Monica Mountains.
As a result, the rugged terrain is marked by dense vegetation and shaded by huge trees. The Betty B. Dearing trail runs along a fire road that once traversed the area. Deer have been observed on the property.
Closes at Dusk
Bounded by Mulholland Drive to the south, the area is officially open from dawn to dusk, when its entrance off Mulholland is locked. To the north, the property abuts several small streets extending off Fryman Road.
Edmiston said the state purchased the land in 1980, with plans to improve it before transferring title to the National Park Service.
Until 1980, he said, the land was in the hands of a series of private owners. The last owners, a group of dentists, proposed building a condominium project on part of the site. The plan drew stiff opposition from neighbors, who feared the project would create traffic and noise.
By purchasing the land, the state was brought into a long-running problem in the area. In the late, 1960s, neighbors say, the land surrounding the stream was known locally as “Happy Valley,” by virtue of its reputation as a gathering place for hippies. Neighbors remember seeing the area promoted in an article in a counterculture magazine.
Those crowds disappeared in the early 70s, neighbors say, only to be replaced by increasing numbers of high-school-age students, who began calling the area the “Rain Forest.” By the time the state purchased the land, weekend gatherings had become common in the area, prompting sporadic complaints of noise, vandalism, drug-taking and sexual activity.
Nancy Pohl, a former director of the Briarcliffs Improvement Assn. and a longtime resident of the area, said neighbors posted signs and lobbied successfully for no-parking zones along nearby streets. In 1982, the conservancy built fences at the ends of these roads with chains and padlocks on the gates.
Pohl said that, after the fences were installed, nighttime visitors to the park began cutting holes in them or climbing over the tops.
Those who live near the park say it is difficult to gauge the size of the crowds that gather on week nights and in larger numbers on weekends. But they say that in recent years the crowds have become increasingly abusive.
House Pelted With Rocks
One woman said her house had been pelted with rocks after she called the police to complain about a group of youths. Another said she was confronted in her backyard by a naked man. Others say they regularly hear yelling and screaming in the hills at night. Illegal campfires are occasionally lit, prompting fears of a fire.
After years of nighttime parties, the northern half of the park is strewn with beer bottles, litter and ashes, and most of the larger trees are covered with graffiti.
These concerns were compounded by reports that state police had interpreted some of the graffiti in the park as a sign of gang presence, as well as by the discovery of the five dead dogs. Edmiston said the fears have been heightened by an air of mystery surrounding those events.
“The truth is that it’s not clear what’s happening up there,” he said. “That’s why we’re clamping down. It’s time we did something about this.”