EVERY time I step outside the San Gabriel Valley I’m reminded how much better they have it than we do when it comes to federal funding.
I’ve got a local chip on my shoulder the size of Mount Wilson. When I get all riled up as I did this past weekend, it can be a parochial whine that resembles a full case of sour grapes.
But I don’t care if people call me a homer. Because this is where I’ve lived for nearly 30 years, where I bought my first home, where I’ve raised my children, where I’ve worked as an indefatigable advocate.
While visiting the Bay Area last weekend, I stumbled upon a National Park Service park in the middle of the city called the San Francisco Maritime National Park. It was closed for renovation during prior visits but since 2008 has blossomed under the U.S. National Park Service’s tutelage.
Again, as someone who enjoys biking along our San Gabriel River, hiking the trails of our foothills and majestic San Gabriel Mountains, the parallels between the NPS restoration there and our dream of a coordinated, restored river and mountains “park” here became as clear to me as the view of the bay after the fog lifted.
Our rivers, our mountains, our trails, even nearby county parks (Schabarum Park, Whittier Narrows Recreation Area) are precious resources. And while access and trails have improved, they are still a hodgepodge of open space without any true connecting thread.
One of my passions is photographing the relics in the mountains that sit rotting or lay victim to thieves and graffiti hounds.
Ruins of Deer Park in the back country behind Monrovia Canyon (off Ben Overturff Trail)
Mount Lowe Railway, Crystal Lake Campground (now getting a face-lift), Deer Park, Henninger Flats, Dawn Mine, Follows Camp, the Bridge to Nowhere, even the Mount Wilson Observatory need help. Many have tried to restore these places and while their efforts are laudable they are usually underfunded.
photo by Steve Scauzillo
Ruins of Mt. Lowe Railway as seen on trail high above Altadena.
The former Rep. Hilda Solis, now President Obama’s Secretary of Labor, had proposed making the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers part of a national recreation area. This would bring one coordinating agency, with one set of rules, to tie together our resources and make them more accessible to the public. This could be the answer to our forest as well, which through vandals and fires (and sometimes, as in arson, are related) are destroying historic structures. The Vetter Mountain Lookout was lost in the recent Station Fire, a place I remember visiting with a buddy back in 2002. Gone are the 360-degree views it offered of a back country of canyons and tree-covered mountains and silent beauty.
In San Francisco, the NPS is nearly finished restoring the Aquatic Park Bathhouse built in streamline moderne architecture in the 1930s. The adaptive re-use for the basement includes a senior citizen center and exercise room. Upstairs is gallery space and a veranda with views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. Tile mosaics of fanciful fish have been restored to their original brilliancy. Inside, wall-to-floor murals damaged by seeping water were returned to their original condition.
Next door, the Hyde Street Pier has become a shining gem of the NPS. I boarded the 1886 square-rigger Balclutha, a tall ship used to import salmon from Alaska to the famous cannery in San Francisco. NPS displays throughout the ship explained the ship’s journeys using captains’ logs and personal journals of seamen.
Also on display were tug boats restored with fresh coats of black and red paint, old ferry boats used to transport passenger cars from the peninsula to points East and North, and shrimp boats used by Chinese immigrants. Even the wood shop where boats are restored by NPS technicians was part of the display.
A National Park Service park in an urban interface? If it works in San Francisco, it can work here.