Make our forest a park; criminals, keep out
That crazy talk might as well be inscribed on the entrances to the Angeles National Forest.
Better still, just stretch yellow crime scene tape around the whole 677,000 acres and be done with it.
The forest has become a playground for criminals, evildoers who seemingly arise out of an Elmore Leonard novel. It’s the go-to place to dump a body, commit a crime, grow acres of marijuana, sacrifice a few chickens for the gods, light some candles or illegal campfires and burn the place down or just trash the place with beer cans and diapers.
Just Wednesday, the coroner and homicide detectives were probing a shallow grave found in the forest near Sunland. No remains were found, but leading to the hole were drops of blood, burnt cloth and chicken bones. “Signs of a possible religious ritual,” said news reports.
No body, thank God. But remember, it was cultists with candles practicing animal sacrifice who started the massive Curve Fire in 2002 that destroyed 72 structures and burned 18,700 acres. Many forest lovers lost their cabins in that fire above Azusa. The forest forever changed when those responsible citizens who were the eyes and ears for a thinly staffed Forest Service were no longer there.
At that time, our paper reported investigators were looking for “a satanic cult or a group of `witches’ that are regularly seen in the forest lighting candles and cutting off chicken heads.”
Don’t forget that the Station Fire, the largest fire in the history of the Angeles, established in 1892, was intentionally set by an arsonist on Aug. 26, 2009. The crime is murder, because two firefighters lost their lives fighting the massive blaze.
But who cares about most of the crooks in the hills, right? After all, this vast wild land surrounded by 18 million urban dwellers is, as advertised by the Forest Service itself, “The Land of Many Uses.”
Wrong. Many do care. Many fishermen, hikers and responsible off-roader groups care so much they pack out trash after each visit. Unfortunately, the vast Angeles National Forest suffers from an identity problem. Too many uses, too few watchers.
Rest assured that the good people of the Forest Service, who now work in a new modern headquarters off the 210 Freeway in Arcadia, agree that body dumpers, murderers, arsonists and cultists are not the kind of uses Teddy Roosevelt had in mind when he established the first protected forests in the United States.
But unfortunately, these evil folks just keep on going up there to commit crimes.
Former Star-News reporter Howard Breuer covered the case of the Pasadena pediatrician who strangled his lover with a Snoopy necktie in – you guessed it – the San Gabriel Mountains.
The Hillside Strangler dumped a body in the Angeles.
One Yelp commenter writes, “Is it just me or is the Angeles National Forest the epicenter for dumbass hikers or killers looking to dump bodies? I say shut it down and request id before entering.”
Cary C writes on an Internet site: “I had to go out there a couple of months ago for a site visit on one of my cases, and the stories the field personnel that live up there were telling me about the body dumping, etc., were scary and creepy.”
Criminals are soiling the reputation of my forest. A place I hike every chance I get for the solace it brings and for observing God’s living creation. John Muir described the Angeles as having a rugged beauty with unexpected meadows bursting with surprising flowers and breathtaking waterfalls. I understand Cary C’s passion, but that may not be the best solution. There is a movement underway by the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and San Gabriel Mountains Forever to bring in the National Park Service to create a National Recreation Area around most of the forest and the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers. The plan would augment the under-resourced Forest Service by adding additional recreation guides, experts and nature interpreters.
The place needs new signs and a new identity. More like Yellowstone or Yosemite. It needs to be a park.
Now is the time to open a dialog about re-claiming the forest for legitimate, peaceful uses.
Your ideas are welcome.