About 85 people gathered Monday in sweltering midday heat to dedicate the proposed Fossil Ridge paleontological park in the mountains above Sherman Oaks.
Actor Ed Asner and Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky were among a host of speakers to laud the plan for a trail and visitor center that would make Fossil Ridge--a brushy promontory embedded with remains of ancient fish, mammals and plants--an educational resource for schoolchildren and other area residents.
But despite the congratulatory tone of Monday's event, organizers later acknowledged that the park--which was conceived in 1986--still is not ready to receive visitors and may not be until at least next year.
The plan for the park, located at the junction of Mulholland Drive and Beverly Glen Boulevard, grew out of a dispute between developer Kenneth Kai Chang and opponents of his Mulholland Estates project. Chang five years ago agreed to scale back his project to 95 estate homes and to donate 56 acres, including Fossil Ridge, to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
In addition, Chang pledged to contribute funds for a trail and visitor center with fossil displays.
However, officials said the first payment from Chang is not due for a month, and that most of the $530,000 he is supposed to donate during the next two years has been encumbered for other uses.
Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the mountains conservancy, said that at the urging of park supporters, the conservancy set aside $400,000 to acquire a neighboring parcel--with the understanding that the first $400,000 from Chang is to be used to replace the funds.
He said it is uncertain where the conservancy will get other funds, and that the visitor center probably will not be completed for two years or so.
Standing in the shadow of Fossil Ridge, Sherman Oaks naturalist Arnold Newman, a prime mover behind the park, said that 10 million years ago when the creatures embedded in the ridge expired, the area was under 650 feet of water "and the ocean lapped at a beach in Montana."
He predicted that youthful visitors to the park will be imbued with "a further reverence for life and evolution on Earth."
Newman said he believed that a trail over the ridge and docent training could be completed by next year, allowing groups to tour the site.
Dr. Craig Black, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, said scientists and educators at the museum will train high school science students from the Oakwood School in North Hollywood and the Buckley School in Sherman Oaks to serve as docents when the park is opened.
Most fossil sites are "way out in the boonies where there's not a very great chance for too many people to visit them and learn from them," Black said. With Fossil Ridge, on the other hand, "the opportunity to educate the students of the area is . . . potentially tremendous," Black said.