ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST >> Every weekend, thousands of visitors play in a 2.5-mile stretch of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River at Cattle Canyon.
There, they bathe in pools created by self-made rock dams. While frolicking in the water, they inadvertently squash the babies of a protected fish species. And they strew plastic bags, fast-food wrappers and used diapers into and along the banks of the river.
The heavy recreational use has resulted in an F rating for water quality from the Los Angeles-Area Regional Water Quality Control Board, the only spot in the San Gabriel River to violate the agency’s standard for excess trash.
For more than 10 years, the Sierra Club, San Gabriel Mountains Forever and other groups have dreamed of improvements to the eyesore, only to be stymied by an overwhelmed and underfunded U.S. Forest Service.
OBAMA ACTION SPURRED FUNDING
Momentum changed in October 2014, when President Barack Obama dedicated 342,175 acres of the forest as the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, including the East Fork confluence at Cattle Canyon, about 14 miles north of Azusa.
Two years later, the Forest Service produced an ambitious plan that includes new trails, river crossings, access steps, picnic tables, bathrooms and nearly 300 more parking spaces.
The San Gabriel River Confluence With Cattle Canyon Improvements Project was released Oct. 28 and is accepting comments through Dec. 1 from the public, cities, government agencies and nonprofits. The goal, expressed by Obama at the dedication ceremony in San Dimas, is reiterated by the Forest Service in the plan: “to provide balanced, environmentally sustainable recreation opportunities to meet the needs of a growing urban and culturally diverse population.”
PLAN WOULD COST $10 MILLION TO $15 MILLION
Cleaning up Cattle Canyon and the East Fork would be a major milestone for the monument, part of the Angeles National Forest that gets 3.5 million visitors a year. But the project, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, is in search of funding, said Belinda Faustinos, retired executive officer of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy who is a consultant to SGM Forever, a group of business, clergy, government and environmental leaders advocating for monument and forest improvements.
“We don’t have a complete funding source,” said Rob Romanek, project manager with the Watershed Conservation Authority, but the agency has secured about $500,000 from the Forest Service for design work, he said. Faustinos said her group would work on applying for funding from ballot Measures A and M, tax measures approved by voters on Nov. 8 for parks and transportation, respectively, in Los Angeles County.
The plan includes: a 2.5-mile East Fork Scenic Trail; six new access points leading down to the river (five staircases, one ramp); additional picnic areas at Coyote Flats and Heaton Flats adjacent to the river; 270 new parking spaces and three shuttle stops; more signs explaining how to keep a natural area clean and more trash bins, Romanek said.
By adding picnic areas, people can eat while still viewing the river. “Now, people prepare meals right next to the water and their Styrofoam plates blow directly in the water,” he said.
More trails would give people more to do than just sit in the river. Also, more trash receptacles would encourage proper disposal of waste, he said.
“(The East Fork Scenic Trail) provides an opportunity to people with mobility challenges or to push a stroller or a walker along the river, still be able to enjoy it without going down into the river,” Faustinos said.
BALANCE BETWEEN PROTECTION AND RECREATION
The biggest issue is finding a balance between recreational use and environmental restoration and protection, Faustinos said.
Getting folks to stop creating rock-dam pools that take the oxygen out of the water and kill the Santa Ana sucker fish is an objective, but keeping people out of the East Fork is not.
“We want to encourage use but also good stewardship,” Faustinos said.
To comment on the plan send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org Written comments can be sent to: Cattle Canyon Improvements Project, 110 N. Wabash Ave., Glendora, CA 91741.
Romanek says the earliest the Forest Service will finish approval and the federal Record of Decision on the plan and its environmental impact statement is February 2018.