The years have taken their toll on Burbank's Wildwood Canyon Park.
Ravaged by nature and neglected by man, the 500-acre park in the Verdugo Hills northwest of downtown has fallen slowly into disrepair during its 27 years. Restroom buildings are scarred by graffiti, and heavy rains from seasons past have washed out the bottom of the canyon, filling its natural flood-control channel with debris.
For years, the city's Parks and Recreation Department planted donated palms and other trees in the canyon. As a result, the palms stand amid native sycamores and alders, an incongruous intrusion into the area's natural ecology.
But now, aided by a $1-million grant from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the city plans to refurbish Wildwood Canyon by constructing buildings, re-establishing native plants and adding to the park's trails. The new trails will connect the park with the Rim of the Valley Trail, which is eventually supposed to ring the San Fernando Valley.
Work is scheduled to begin by the end of the year, and officials hope that when the spruced-up park is reopened next spring it will offer an alternative to Burbank's 14 other parks. Although the others are smaller urban parks with playgrounds, swimming pools and a few picnic tables, officials hope that Wildwood will live up to its name and offer shady hideaways within steep canyon walls as a calm refuge for hiking and picnicking close to the city.
"The opportunities for good picnicking just aren't there" in Burbank now, said Richard Inga, Parks and Recreation Department director.
The key to the park project will be restoring the park's mixture of native plants to make the canyon look as if it had never been developed.
"The intent now is to preserve the natural beauty of the canyon," said Janice Bartolo, deputy director of park services.
Project manager John Diaz of the conservancy said rehabilitating native habitat is not an uncommon element of projects financed by his state agency, which acquires and preserves parkland in the Los Angeles area. The land around the conservancy's headquarters in Solstice Canyon near Malibu, for instance, is gradually being returned to its natural state.
About 50 non-native trees will be removed from Wildwood Canyon and possibly be planted elsewhere in Burbank, depending on whether they would survive the move, said Tom Weir, a consultant who helped draw up the restoration plans.
Park officials plan to coordinate work at Wildwood with improvements planned for nearby Stough Canyon. A $49,000 grant from the conservancy will be used to develop a master plan for Stough, which is undeveloped. A nature center is proposed as the centerpiece of that park, located on the other side of De Bell Municipal Golf Course.
Most of Wildwood's 500 acres are accessible only on foot. A paved road snakes about a mile up the floor of the canyon and provides access to picnic sites. A handful of trails shoot off from Wildwood Canyon Road to explore the chaparral and offer hazy views of the San Fernando Valley from ridgelines.
Inga said these trails will be expanded to link up with a section of the Rim of the Valley Trail between Glendale and Sun Valley. An existing trail in Stough Canyon is Burbank's current link to the trail.
Park officials also plan to replace run-down restroom buildings within the park and build an entry gate at the park entrance. Parking also will be increased.
The park sustained major damage during heavy flooding in the late 1970s and early 1980s. To check flooding, the city erected wood barriers in the canyon's natural channels. Those will be strengthened and camouflaged with stones and shrubs to provide a more natural look, Inga said.