Welcome mat comes back out at Angeles National Forest
The U.S. Forest Service on Monday will reopen popular picnic areas, hiking trails and campgrounds across 98,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest that had been closed since the Station fire scorched the San Gabriel Mountains nearly two years ago.
The reopening could not come soon enough for Tyler Wallace, a 32-year-old engineer and avid hiker, who was forced to seek another adventure Sunday when a forest ranger said Wallace would not be able to climb 6,000-foot Strawberry Peak for 24 more hours.
“I understand why they had to close these areas,” Wallace said. “But I’m also chomping at the bit to get back into my favorite hiking places.”
Deputy Forest Supervisor Marty Dumpis said the closure was needed to hasten the recovery of the bluish-green blanket of shrubs collectively known as chaparral — including white sage, holly-leafed cherry and manzanita — covering much of the range, which provides Los Angeles County with 70% of its open space.
“The vegetation stabilizes the mountainsides and helps prevent rocks from tumbling down onto trails, picnic areas and roads,” Dumpis said. “We also used the time to make badly needed repairs and upgrades in heavily used areas such as the Switzer picnic area.”
On almost any weekend before the closure, the Switzer area was as crowded as a Southern California beach. But on Sunday, the gate at its entrance was still locked and posted with “closed to public” signs.
Hundreds of visitors Sunday traversed the Angeles Crest Highway, except along an eight-mile stretch north of La Cañada Flintridge that remains closed for repairs, hoping to gain access to their favorite havens but finding most of them still closed for one more day.
Standing on a bluff overlooking stream-side picnic grounds shaded by alders and oaks, John Reulein, 42, of Acton shook his head and said, “We really need these areas reopened because people need them to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
“These canyons, streams and forests provide peace and beauty, as well as a sense of spiritual renewal,” he said. Pointing toward a pine that had survived the fire that reduced everything around it to charcoal and ash, he added, “Just looking at that tree makes me believe I can make it through the uncertainties of my own life.”
Sections reopening include the Charlton Flat, Mill Creek Summit and Paul Little picnic areas; the Indian Canyon, Bear Canyon, Silver Moccasin, Nature’s Canteen and Sunset Ridge trails; and the entire San Gabriel Wilderness area. The portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs through the Angeles National Forest will also reopen.
Burned areas within Big Tujunga Canyon, however, will remain closed for at least one more year, Dumpis said, to allow for the recovery of threatened and endangered species, including the Santa Ana suckerfish, and to restore trails, remove invasive weeds and plant trees.
On Sunday, Kat High, spokeswoman of the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center at the juncture of Angeles Crest Highway and Mt. Wilson Road, welcomed the opportunity to regain access to what she called “the bounty of these mountains: acorns, tobacco and white sage.”
“It’s been very frustrating,” she said. “Now, that the areas are being reopened, we’ll see how well people love and respect this fragile landscape.”
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