Army Wants to Close New Horse Trail : Riders, L.A. Dispute Claims That Hansen Dam Route Is Unsafe

Times Staff Writer

A horse trail in the northeast San Fernando Valley, scheduled to be dedicated Saturday, is unsafe and should be closed immediately, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which leases the land to the city of Los Angeles.

But representatives of the city Department of Recreation and Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the riders who use the Hansen Dam Trail in Pacoima said the Corps of Engineers is exaggerating.

"The problem is the Corps of Engineers doesn't have anyone out there who rides horses," said rider Andrea Gutman of Sunland. "As far as we're concerned, that trail is significantly safer than a lot of spots they've allowed us to go ahead and ride in their dam."

The engineer in charge of the project for the Corps of Engineers said city crews left the trail too narrow in some areas and too steep in others. And, she said, a fence was not built on the dam side of the trail to keep horses off the dam face, which is beginning to erode.

'Just Plain Hazardous'

"I'm just totally amazed at how it was constructed," said Wanda Kiebala, the engineer in charge of the project. "The trail meets no standards in terms of liability. There are several portions of the trail that are just plain hazardous."

Although conceding that the trail is both narrow and steep in spots, Gutman said, neither problem is severe enough to create difficulties for horses or their riders. The trail is important to horse riders because it connects other trails in the area, forming part of a rim-of-the-Valley trail.

All of the trail details supposedly were worked out during three years of negotiations among the various state and city agencies involved with the trail, Kiebala said. Delays during those negotiations caused the conservancy to threaten several times last year to withdraw its $77,500 grant from the trail project.

The Department of Recreation and Parks plans to keep the trail open, in spite of two letters from Kiebala warning of the trail's potential liability problems, said Kathleen Chan, city project manager. Kiebala's letter also asked for the trail to be closed until those problems are solved.

The department has applied for additional money from the California Wildlife Coastal and Park Land Conservation Bond Act of 1988, which Chan said could be used to improve the trail and add fencing.

"It will not complete the railing, but it will cure most of the problems that the corps has with the trail," she said.

Cost $162,000

The trail cost $162,000 to build. It was paid for by the conservancy, a state agency, and another state grant. The money went largely toward a fence on the downhill side of the trail, which keeps horses off the city-run golf course. The trail was completed at the end of January. Gutman said use has been heavy ever since, with up to 150 riders on some weekend days.

Kiebala said she had not been notified of the trail dedication, set for 9 a.m. Saturday. But she said the Corps of Engineers has no plans to prevent it. The conservancy plans to proceed despite the corps' concerns, said John Diaz, conservancy analyst.

"They haven't notified us at all, but I've heard through the grapevine that there was some concern," Diaz said. "I think they're being absolutely unreasonable. . . . The whole idea behind the words 'recreation area' is public access."

Diaz said he had toured the trail with riders several times, most recently earlier this week, and "didn't see any problem."

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