Land preservation gaining steam

ALTADENA — La Crescenta resident Alex Boone, who often rides his mountain bike throughout the foothills, envisions a day when he could ride the hillsides across the San Fernando Valley.

"I'd like to see a trail system that would go all the way across," Boone said.

He and fellow mountain biker Justin Goodkind were two of about 30 people on Wednesday who filled the building at Farnsworth Park in Altadena for the seventh in a string of community input meetings hosted by the National Park Service for a long-awaited $500,000 study of the region's hillsides.

The community meetings are the first phase in the "Rim of the Valley" resource study, which Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) announced in June after years of lobbying. It was finally approved as part of federal legislation signed by President George W. Bush in 2008.

"This is a special evening for us because it took us nine years just to get to moments like these," said William Syms, Schiff's district representative.

The study's final recommendations could help preserve the approximately 650,000 acres above the San Fernando, La Crescenta, Santa Clarita, Simi and Conejo valleys known collectively as the Rim of the Valley.

At the meetings, National Park Service officials asked residents for input on what they see as significant resources and recreational opportunities in the study area. Part of that input included desired outcomes, such as Boone's vision of an expanded trail system.

"We're trying to get some initial information from folks in terms of what we should be studying, particular resources we should be looking at," said Project Manager Anne Dove.

Officials also plan to analyze the rim's wildlife and natural resources and how the federal government may get involved in protecting them.

The study's final report will outline a conservation strategy and examine the feasibility of including some or all of the land into the federally protected Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Community members will be involved throughout the four-year study process, officials said, which will ultimately result in a series of recommendations to Congress in 2014. Any implementation of the recommendations would require action by federal or state lawmakers.

Dove noted that less than 25% of special resource studies result in recommendations to expand national park boundaries, and that any that potential future land purchases would involve only "willing sellers."

Many in attendance said they were hopeful the study would ultimately result in preservation of the hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife surrounding the San Fernando Valley.

"We're just concerned with being able to maintain the system," Goodkind said, "especially when natural disasters happen."

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