Hikers head for the hills

Cary Michel huffed and puffed Saturday morning all the way back down from Fire Warden’s Grove, a 3.6-mile hike one way.

It was the Glendale resident’s first time hiking in the Verdugo Hills, and after Saturday’s hike, she couldn’t explain why. She only knew she’d be back soon.

“It was great,” Michel said in between heavy breaths near the bottom of the fire road off La Tuna Canyon Road. “So beautiful . . . and everyone on the trail was great.”

On the other side of the mountain at the Stough Canyon Nature Center in Burbank, Lori Kieffer was just about to set off on her own two-mile hike. Unlike Michel, she regularly hikes in the hills above Burbank after discovering her love of the outdoors several years ago.

“I gave it a try one time, and I loved it,” she said.

Both women were among hundreds of hikers and runners — some regulars, others novices — who fanned out and over steep terrain as part of the eighth annual Verdugo Hills Community Hike and Trail Run.

They started their treks via three main entry points — runners at Brand Park, hikers at Stough and La Tuna canyons. Boy Scouts provided refreshments along the trails as the sun wore down on participants in the late-morning hours.

Roughly 20 people participated in the 14-mile up-and-back run from Brand Park, with nearly 200 hikers expected to march up and down the hillsides.

There were no guides. Over the years, organizers found that participants were more interested in moving at their own pace.

Those who registered and paid a $10 fee got a miniature medical kit and access to food atop the trails. The fundraising was earmarked for future trail maintenance and educational programs, organizers said.

Registration wasn’t required to hike the public trails, but the whole point of the event wasn’t necessarily to raise funds, but to raise awareness of the steep playground above Burbank and Glendale, said Carol Mercado, recreation supervisor for Burbank.

“It just brings out a few more people, and maybe we get a few more volunteers because of that,” she said.

It also gave Boy Scouts, aged 12 to 18, a chance to earn merit badges for working a community event as a team. Glendale Park Ranger Scouts, Burbank Nature Docents and Junior Docents also pitched in for an event that won a merit award in May at the California Trails & Greenways Conference in San Diego.

“I have to admit, I had second thoughts this morning about coming out, and I’ll probably pay for this tomorrow when I can’t walk, but the sense of community is just great,” said Mike Bowen, a La Crescenta resident who made the eight-mile hike to Fire Warden’s Grove, as he stretched his legs. “Yeah, I can already feel it.”

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