The dream of the Altadena Crest Trail is a single low-foothill trail that connects Eaton Canyon on the east side of town to the Hahamongna Watershed Park on the west side.
It could be used not just by the hard-core hikers who bound up the steeper mountain trails in the area, but runners, walkers, mountain bikers, and horse owners who are looking for something a little bit more moderate.
For years there have been three major gaps in the trail preventing it from being completed, but recent events have shown that a solution is easily obtainable for two of those gaps (for more details on the trail location, please see the map at right).
First, on the west side of town, an impending settlement in a lawsuit over land access in the La Vina residential development would end a legal dispute over trail access stemming back to 2005. If that case is settled as the plaintiff in the case has suggested it would be, the land necessary to close the gap in the Altadena Crest Trail on the west side of town would be handed over to a public conservancy.
The recent agreemtn to eventually purchase of 13 acres adjacent to La Vina by the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy could also make for a possible final segment from La Vina to the Hahamongna Watershed Park. Previous county plans have discussed the possibility of considering local roads as the final 'trail' segment needed to reach Hahamongna, so the possibility of a full off-road trail is exciting.
On the east side, the land needed to complete a trail gap in Rubio Canyon is also in the hands of Arroyos & Foothills. Trail work in the area has been under way for months. The conservancy owns all the land necessary to make the connection to trails in the Cobb Estate area.
Those developments are good news: Lori Paul, a local trails advocate who sits on the Altadena Crest Trail Working Group said she is hopeful that the recent changes can bring "positive pressure" to move the whole project forward.
However, Paul also said that the county is no closer to taking action on the trail that it was back in 2006 when it took the step of doing an official study on trail completion. And there are still very real obstacles to finishing the trail.
For example, the trail segment in Rubio Canyon needs to cross a canyon in the area, and some engineering skills and real equipment need to be applied to finish the trail, according to John Howell, the head of the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy.
And then there is one more gap in a neighborhood above Loma Alta Boulevard. That gap is the shortest and technically the easiest to complete, but will require the cooperation of local landowners.
Resolving the remaining issues will take more than just the hard work of local volunteers who have been dedicated to the trail so far.
It's time for the County to step in.
County officials concluded in a 2006 study that an environmental impact report will be necessary to complete the trail. There are landowners along the way who will surely have concerns, and public meetings are going to be necessary.
The engineering that needs to be done to finish the Rubio Canyon portion will require county assistance.
When the county last looked at the issue seriously in 2006, the issues about access in La Vina were still being worked out. The land necessary to complete the Rubio Canyon segment was in private hands.
With those issues resolved, the County needs to step it up and get moving. Environmental work and property ownership issues are rarely resolved very quickly. Neither are issues with finding funding for trail construction.
But those are the issues that the project now faces. There is no sense in waiting to get started on resolving them.
When I last covered the issue at length at Altadena Patch in October of 2010, county Chief Executive Officer Jan Takata told me that the La Vina settlement was the major impediment to trail building on the project.
I've called Takata to ask about the future of the project now that La Vina is about to be resolved. I have not yet received a response, but I am very interested to hear what he has to say about it.
And I am interested in your opinion: as an Altadena resident do you feel it is worth doing? Would you use the trail? How much of a priority should this be for the County compared to other issues that need to be addressed in the city?
People often discuss Altadena's problems on this site, and often there are no clear solutions: for example, nobody has figured out exactly what it would take to bring dynamic new local businesses to town.
But building a trail is not rocket science: it takes time, money, and a bunch of public meetings to smooth out land issues. The County can, and should, get the job done.
Editor's note: The original version of this story suggested the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy had already completed a purchase in Millard Canyon. The group has an agreement to purchase the land, but has not yet completed the transaction.