'One day in '69, I saw 100 trees cut to the ground. . . .'

Jan Hinkston studied art in college and spent her career teaching in kindergarten. She retired this summer and plans to continue a second career in public service, which started nearly 20 years ago. Hinkston, 62, is founder of the Santa Susana Mountain Park Assn. and lives in West Hills. My first teaching job was at Chatsworth Park Elementary, teaching kindergarten. When I looked at those mountains and those hills, I just fell in love with them. They were just so beautiful, and I said to myself, "Someday, they're going to want to develop those mountains." And they are now, because that's all that's left. It's almost too late, and I'm really worried.

One day in '69, I saw 100 trees cut to the ground on the north side of the Chatsworth Reservoir. More than 100 big oaks, severed, murdered. How can anybody do that to an oak that takes that long to grow?

That made me so angry, and there just happened to be an article in the paper that week about a group called Chatsworth Beautiful. So I went to their meeting and was encouraged to form a committee to work on the Chatsworth Reservoir problem. We were successful in getting them not to cut down any more oaks and to leave a pond so that the birds would have a place to land that they could recognize from the air.

Then I said, "Now I would like us to try to do something about saving those mountains," and I pointed to the west. So we formed a committee. Then I began to realize that this was a 20-year project.

So we formed our own group, the Santa Susana Mountain Park Assn. We had the first meeting at my house, and there were 12 people. I was elected president; no one else would take the job. I didn't know anything about running an organization. All I had was enthusiasm for what we wanted. I wanted to save the mountains from being developed. I didn't really know that much about them except that I loved them.

We drew up a statement of purpose and that included saving the whole of the Santa Susana Mountains all the way up to the Santa Clara River on the north, and the Simi Hills, all the way down to Simi Peak, on the south. It was an 80-square-mile area that we were interested in preserving for the future. That was in November of 1970.

Everywhere I went, I learned. I met with the Chatsworth Historical Society and I learned about the old stagecoach trail. And I got really turned on about that. I found out that it was not only gorgeous to look at, but that it had all this history there to boot.

I had to learn all this civics, city government, county government, state government, national government, all of these layers of it drove me crazy.

We decided we were going to focus in on saving the stagecoach trail on both sides of the pass. That's almost done now. We have a geological formation in the area that goes back 100 million years, and once they're bulldozed away, they're gone forever. It comes up to the surface at this point. There are not many places in this world where that is the case. This Chico formation is really kind of rare.

I think that we should start appreciating rocks more. Rocks are irreplaceable. That's what makes them special. Walking through there I feel excitement. I also feel as if I am not the first one there. I feel that the Indians have been there. I think the Indians liked the rocks, too, because there's a lot of Indian sites in this special area. Chatsworth has a village site and they destroyed two-thirds of it when they put that 118 Freeway in. They destroyed it without even investigating what was there, and that's a crime.

We have to save our special places. Otherwise, life isn't worth living, if we don't have enough diversity of landform, of plant life and animal life. If I didn't think I could see a deer, once in a while, going up there, that would be awful. Seeing one once in a great while just makes me ecstatic. It's an unforgetable experience. Our kids are not going to be able to do it unless we can save as much of the habitat as possible.

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