Could the San Gabriel River Watershed and Mountains, along with the surrounding area, become part of the national park system? A recently released draft study from the National Park Service says the potential is there, and dozens of San Gabriel Valley residents digested the findings of that study Saturday in El Monte.
The study has been about six years in the making, according to Rep. Judy Chu, who attended the meeting, which is the first in a series. The purpose of the meetings is to gain public feedback to eventually implement into the final report, which would be presented to Congress in 2012.
"Every day, I look up at the mountains, and I see that these mountains are for many," said Chu, a Monterey Park Democrat. "They are the only place people can go to enjoy the outdoors."
Chu also mentioned that the area fields about 3 million visitors per year, but is in "critical need" of support and assistance when it comes to those visitors fully enjoying themselves.
"I saw people hiking, but they were puzzled, so they asked us where the pathways were," she said, adding that she was "happy to see people there, but was also disturbed" by the lack of items such as picnic tables and other park amenities.
The study area encompasses about 700,000 acres of land, and roughly 415,000 of the Angeles National Forest. While the communities of La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta-Montrose and Altadena are outside of the study area, Sierra Madre and Arcadia are right at its borders.
Monrovia, however, is well within study range, along with many communities to the east, with the lines stopping at the Claremont/Upland area, and south, with the lines stopping at La Mirada and Fullerton. You can see the maps outlining the study zone to the right of this article.
A quartet of alphabetized alternatives were explored in the study, all emphasizing aspects such as the preservation of resources while strengthening the recreational elements of the lands both in the Angeles National Forest and the urban communities within the study area.
But the most environment-friendly, and popular, among the crowd was alternative "D", which is defined as a "collaborative partnership-based park unit which respects the complex mix of land use, ownership, and regulatory authority in the study area," while also stating that a "large traditional national park unit, owned and operated solely by the NPS, would be infeasible."
Barbara Butler, the project manager and Saturday's presenter from the National Park Service, said alternative D was borne of a combination of other plans and input from the public after the some preliminary alternatives were presented in 2009. She also stressed that even with alternative D's strengths and popularity, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's officially the park service's plan of action.
"We haven't identified the NPS' preferred alternative, because we want to hear from you," she said.
Support for D came from all sides, but La Crescenta resident Paul Buehler shared come concern about the collaboration of multiple agencies possibly creating a logistical mess.
"Are we going to have 30 different sets of rules?," he said. "How are trails going to be managed? I just feel there's a very bad sense of management when 10 to 20 agencies are involved."
Butler answered that the goal of the plan is not really to "control, but to better coordinate" communication among local agencies, all of which would maintain the same control over decisionmaking they have now -- for instance, the U.S. Forest Service would still oversee Angeles National Forest.
Michael Cacciotti, mayor pro tem of South Pasadena but also a member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, was also in attendance and used the conservancy's work as an example of interagency harmony.
"It's a great model, just all these cities and agencies working together," he said, calling the process "seamless." Butler also noted that NPS looked at the conservancy as a precedent for the agency work mix within the study.
Mary Barrie, a resident of La Canada Flintridge, brought up some confusion regarding the overlap with this particular study, officially dubbed the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study, and the separate Rim of the Valley Corridor study. That study also includes a large chunk of the Angeles National Forest and areas around the Crescenta Valley, but also sprawls west to the San Fernando Valley and beyond.
Butler answered that the San Gabriel Valley study is further along in its process, and that findings from the work done with that study could also be implemented into the Rim of the Valley work.
Many others in the audience shared support for alternative D, also praising Butler (in Spanish as well) and the National Park Service for moving the study forward.
"This is going to be a place where I can bring my children for years," said one woman, whose public comment was in Spanish and translated for the crowd.
The next public meetings on the San Gabriel study are for Palmdale, Pomona, Santa Clarita and Tujunga from Nov. 14-17.