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Bringing the San Gabriel Mountains Closer to the People

Paco Serrano, a Highland Park youth advocate with the Anahuak Youth Sports Association, will drive three hours to go hiking and camping in Lake Isabella in the heart of the Kern River Valley, but he has never been to the Angeles National Forest or the San Gabriel Mountains, less than an hour away. Serrano is now working to support a proposed national recreation area there. "I think it's important to take children to the San Gabriel Mountains so they can see that nature is free to them. They will begin to appreciate the mountains for themselves. Many people in my community don't know of the opportunities provided in the San Gabriel Mountains."

The San Gabriels represent about 78% of the open space in Los Angeles County, the largest "urban" forest in the nation. Ten million people live within an hour's drive, with opportunities for recreation and physical activity, as well as education, spirituality, and respite from urban stresses. The San Gabriel Watershed is a critical source of clean air, habitat protection, and clean water, providing about a third of the drinking water for local communities.

While the San Gabriel Valley is ethnically and economically diverse, the visitors to the Angeles National Forest are overwhelmingly white. According to the United States Forest Service, Latinos are nearly 50% of the area's population, but account for only 11% of the visitors to the forest. Similarly, Asians are 25% of the area's population, but are less than 5% of the visitors. Only 1% of Angeles visitors are African American.

The San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition is organizing a regional and national push to diversify access to and support for the Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel Mountains through a national recreation area (NRA) to be managed cooperatively between federal, state and local agencies. NRAs include urban parks that combine scarce open spaces with the preservation of significant historic resources and important natural areas in locations that can provide outdoor recreation for large numbers of people.

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According to Daniel Rossman, a member of the Coalition and Regional Associate with The Wilderness Society, "the NRA would go through the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, incorporating the San Gabriel River and the Puente Chino Hills State Park. It would leverage resources to address the open space needs of the community and promote a connected trails system. It could support a transit-to-trails program providing public transportation to outdoor recreation. And our vision includes a Conservation Corps program to offer year-round employment for regional youth and returning military veterans."

Rossman said NPS would spend $2 to $4 million to create the NRA. The United States Forest Service would also spend resources to manage its own lands and resources in the Angeles and adjoining San Bernardino National Forest. In the past the USFS has prioritized fire control rather than recreation, leading to rundown trails and facilities.

Where will the money come from? "Federal appropriations. Other NRA designations have been able to leverage private sources of funding. Such a designation would help support public and private funding in the region and better leverage resources among agencies," according to Rossman.
Families enjoying the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Photo by Andrew M. Harvey used with permission.
The need to improve public health helps build support for the NRA. According to Nelson Trujillo, a resident of East Los Angeles, "There is no safe place for outdoor recreation where I live. It's dangerous. I think physical activity will improve the health of my children, keep them safe, healthy and out of trouble." Throughout much of the San Gabriel Valley, 30% or more of all children are overweight or obese. Outdoor programs could also provide positive alternatives to gangs, crime, drugs and violence.

Why are visitation rates by people of color so low to the Angeles? That is a pattern often seen in national forest and park lands. According to a recent study of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area - one of the most visited national parks - traditionally absent groups expressed frustration with limited physical access, subtle racism, and general exclusion from the culture of parks as reasons they avoid these public spaces.

Professor Nina Roberts, one of the authors of the study, explains, "Research over a span of 50 years exploring precisely that question has shifted focus from marginalization due to cost and transportation, to a more cultural understanding of not feeling comfortable or welcome by other visitors or park staff." The San Francisco State academic adds, "Policies covering what is permissible or considered appropriate to do in these areas may not fit cultural preferences and patterns. In the last 10 to 15 years, for example, agencies have come to recognize the need for large group camp-outs and picnic sites to accommodate extended families. Picnics, outdoor sports, throwing a football around, playing soccer or other social activities may be limited, with people often told to get off the land." People of color disproportionately visit parks in large family groups and for active recreation. According to Roberts, "agencies are trying to do a better job with community engagement. We will see a better level of comfort as a result." But history is still real today, she points out.
Church of Epiphany enjoying a hike in the Angeles National Forest. Photo courtesy of the Sierra Club.
In the 1920s and after, racially restrictive covenants prevented people of color from owning or using property at Lake Arrowhead, a mountain lake that lies in the San Bernardino Mountains just outside the proposed NRA area. The federal government traded away land on the lake for land in the woods. Today there is no public access to Lake Arrowhead, as private mansions and businesses ring the lake in what ironically is known as "the Beverly Hills of the Mountains." In the last decade, the Forest Service faced employment discrimination suits by women, Latinos and African Americans that led to programs to diversify staff and visitors.

Pedro Chavez, a resident of Glassell Park, favors signage and programs in English and Spanish in the NRA "because there are many people who don't speak English." A November 2010 poll by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times found that Latino and Asian voters throughout California are significantly more concerned about core environmental issues, including global warming and pollution, than non-Hispanic whites. This study allowed voters to answer questions in their native language. This suggests that culturally appropriate programs could engage more visitors.

Robert Bracamontes, a member of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe, urged cabinet level federal officials to include Native Americans in the planning process at a public hearing in the summer of 2010. "The most important message here is that we are on Tongva land. They are the people who should be making decisions about their land and the sacred sites on it." The Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center in the Angeles National Forest features a museum, gallery, and activity space. Other cultural and historical sites in the study area and in or near the proposed NRA include the Juan de Bautista National Historic Trail, the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, the grave of Owen Brown, who took part in the slave rebellion at Harper's Ferry, and the sites of WWII Japanese relocation assembly centers at the Santa Anita racetrack and the Pomona County fairgrounds.

The 1930 Olmsted plan, Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region, called for including Angeles National Forest and San Gabriel River as part of a comprehensive web of parks, playgrounds, mountains, beaches, rivers and transportation. A 2004 study by USC documented that there is no realistic way of reaching the Angeles Forest from Union Station via transit. A transit-to-trails program would help.

Alternative D from the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resources Study. Click to enlarge.In November 2011 NPS released a draft study called the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resources Study, and has extended the public comment period to February 13, 2012.

The Coalition supports an improved version of Alternative D (see map on right) from the study simply because "it does more to improve recreational opportunity for the region and is the environmentally preferred alternative," according to Juana Torres, a member of the Coalition and regional organizer with the Sierra Club.

There has been some opposition to the NRA based on a stated fear of large government and claimed federal land grab, but "our vision is to ensure that the land that we already own, as taxpayers, meets our local needs. The community overwhelmingly supports this vision," reports Torres.

The City Project and diverse allies who are in the Coalition are submitting recommendations in support of Alternative D which includes equal access to public resources under equal justice laws and principles, and adequate funding for all. The National Park Service has an opportunity to create a best practice example in the San Gabriel Mountains of a balanced urban national recreation area with passive recreation like hiking in the mountains and active recreation including sports fields in the flat lands that serves the diverse needs of people of color, environmental justice, and environmental quality for all.

People who would like to weigh in can write to the National Park Service in their own words, or respond to a questionnaire on the NPS web site.
San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition at America's Great Outdoors Listening Session, Whitter Narrows. Photo courtesy of SGMF

Top photo courtesy of Fabiola Lao for SGMF.

About the Author

I am a civil rights attorney. Fighting for the simple joys of playing in the park and school field for children of color and low income children is the hardest work I have ever done.
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LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment  

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Be advised that the "Forever" group is an out-of-state enity who hides their true identity, they are run from a "C Street" office out of Washington and have literally dozens of fake names which they use to operate in numerous States. They are *not* a local group, they do *not* have a "coalition" of local supporters, they are a foreign group of unknown people paid by unknown corporate/lobbyist interests who refuse to answer questions about who funds, founded, and backs them. Check their web site's domain name registry and you'll find:

Registrant Name:David Chott
Registrant Organization:Campaign for America`s W
Registrant Street1:122 C St NW Ste 240
Registrant City:Washington
Registrant State/Province:DC
Registrant Postal Code:20001
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.5032889453

And check the "C Street" address and you will find it is the home of numerous fake fronts with different names.

Don't trust these "Forever" people. They are not who they claim to be.

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Dear Mr. Rice,
Core members of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever coalition do indeed include locally based organizations, including The City Project, COFEM, The Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, all in the City of Los Angeles; Project Amiga in El Monte; Amigos de los Rios in Altadena; and California Wilderness Coalition in Claremont, as well as many other local supporters.

The PEW/Campaign for America’s Wilderness paid for the domain name for our coalition campaign site at sangabrielmountains.org. That is the information you find when you look up the URL as per your comment. Daniel Rossman and Fabiola Lao, who are local members of the campaign, have explained this to you before and offered to meet with you about any concerns you might have.

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The people who are running the "Forever" fake front have never explained who they are, who funds them, and have never provided a legitimate explanation for why a C Street entity is sticking their noses in our business. The claim that dozens of domain names are all paid for and registered to the same C Street entity while the various groups are unaligned makes zero sense -- which I explained repeatedly to the anonymous people running the "Forever" fake front.

As for their "coalition," after telephoning many of the people they claim to have membership with, only COFEM panned out, I managed to get in touch with members of the "coalition" who had no idea who these "Forever" people were and had never heard of them.

As for "local members of the campaign," that's exactly correct, the C Street lobbyist or corporate public relations firm or other unknown entity that runs all these dozens of fake fronts specifically attempt to infiltrate local, legitimate environmentally-oriented groups, they specifically attempt to hijack legitimacy from actual groups.

Finally these people are neither wanted nor needed. There is overwhelming support for the NPS's Plan D for safeguarding and strengthening the watershed and for broadening recreation and law enforcement and other safety-related oversight and overlay, there is no need for foreign entities to be flocking to Southern California to shove in and subvert *or* support Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis efforts to improve conditions.

All this has been explained to the "Forever" people who have never offered reasonable explanations of where they came from, what their agenda is, or why they feel the need to shove in where they're not wanted or needed.

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According to this article, Asians are less than 5% and Latinos around 11% and African Americans are less than 1%... that's 17% and is absolute hogwash. You telling me that the remaining 83% is white???!!!! Anyone with any expierience in the Angeles knows that these numbers are based on some other region. Do the people who come up with this stuff actually visit these locations? Where do the numbers come from?

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Volcon - you're right. I spend a lot of time in the San Gabriels and would estimate that 40-50% of the visitors are hispanic and at least 20% are Asian. I don't see too many African Americans. The remaining 25-35% are white. And I'd always pay attention to and believe what Fred (Not So Old Hippy) says. He volunteers much of his time in the SG's and is very knowledgable about the goings on in the area.

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Thanks for your interest in the forest visitation research! As Yogi Berra said, you could look it up.


The U.S. Forest Service data for the Angeles is here: http://www.LAAlmanac.com/parks/pa07.htm


The U.S. Forest Service data for national visitation rates is here: http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/nvum/nvum_national_summary_fy2009.pdf.


For additional research including work by Angeles Forest staff who spend their professional lives in the Angeles and have first hand knowledge and experience of who visits the forest see generally Deborah J. Chavez, Mexican-American Outdoor Recreation: Home, Community & Natural Environment, proceedings paper, Hawaii International Conference on Social Sciences 5, 41-43 (2003); Deborah J. Chavez, Adaptive Management in Outdoor Recreation: Serving Hispanics in Southern California, 17 (3) West. J. Applied Forestry 132 (July 2002); Deborah S. Carr & Deborah J. Chavez, A Qualitative Approach to Understanding Recreation Experiences: Central American Recreation in the National Forests of Southern California in Culture, Conflict, and Communication in the Wildland-Urban Interface 181, 184-94 (A.W. Ewert, D.J. Chavez, A.W. Magill eds., 1993); Patrick T. Tierney, et al., USDA, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Cultural Diversity of Los Angeles County Residents Using Undeveloped Natural Areas 5 (1998). See also Alison H. Deming & Lauret E. Savoy, ed., The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World (2002); Setha Low, Dana Taplin, & Suzanne Scheld, Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity 40-43 (2005).