Huge swath of Angeles National Forest reopens

Nature enthusiasts will have something to celebrate this Memorial Day weekend after roughly 41,000 acres in Angeles National Forest that were closed in the wake of the Station fire reopen to the public today.

The U.S. Forest Service closed large swaths of land in the wake of the massive Station fire in 2009, which charred 11,000 acres in what became the worst fire in Los Angeles County history.

After the fire, the Forest Service closed off a huge area of the mountainous terrain as officials embarked upon a massive reforestation effort, including weed clearance, tree planting and other measures to shore up trails and other areas that were left weakened and unsafe without the protection of vegetation.

Steve Messer, a Forest Service volunteer and off-road bicyclist, welcomed the news at a meeting in Angeles National Forest on Wednesday, the day before the reopening plan get final approval.

“Reopening is definitely the most significant news for the forest visitor,” Messer said. “And if it does open up, I’ll be riding up to Condor Peak on Saturday.”

The reopening covers a broad area of Big Tujunga Canyon and extends south of Big Tujunga Dam, allowing access to areas for hiking, picnics and camping, according to the Forest Service. Recreation sites that have been reopened include: Stone Canyon Trail, Trail Canyon Trail and Delta Flat recreation areas.

But nature lovers beware: also sprouting in the Station fire burn areas is a plant with purple flowers known as poodle-dog bush, which when touched, can cause poison oak-like skin rashes and blisters.

The plant, Turricula parryi, thrives in areas where the soil has been ravaged by flash floods or, as in this case, fire. Other small purple flowers in bloom in the area, such as the yerba santa and lupine, are harmless to humans.

Meanwhile, restoration efforts continue throughout the park, with mixed success. As of April, just a quarter of the 900,000 seedlings planted across 4,300 acres are thriving —far below the 75% to 80% survival rate the Forest Service wanted. The plan now is to plant enough seedlings so that in five years, 900,000 trees will be growing on 4,400 acres.

Much of the San Gabriel Mountains is covered in scrub and chaparral, with some oak woodlands and riparian areas. At higher elevations, there are small clusters of trees, but the Forest Service has been criticized for moving to quickly to initiate a massive tree planting effort without first allowing natural chaparral to take root.

-- Beige Luciano-Adams and Jason Wells, Times Community News

Twitter: @JasonBretWells

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