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Time to Complete the Altadena Crest Trail

With new land purchases and legal settlements coming to a head, there is nothing stopping the county from finally building a trail across Altadena.

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.

Steve Lamb February 17, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Except of course what kept the County from doing it in 1947, 1956 and 1963 when the last community pushes were....The fact that the County really doesnt give a golly about the public, its needs or amenities.
Nico February 17, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Great article Dan. We owe a big debt of gratitude to people like Lori Paul and Paul Ayers (and many others) who got the trails where they are now. Regardless of whether the County cares or not, relentless efforts do yield results and will continue to do so.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) February 17, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I would agree with both of you that county officials are not going to suddenly jump into action because they really want to do the project. But it does seem to me if faced with intense lobbying efforts which do not currently exist, the county would no longer be able to say that they can't really do anything until La Vina's issues are resolved. It seems to me there is a better chance now than there has been for years. That doesn't mean it will happen, but I like the chances more than for resolving many of the other long-term concerns people have for Altadena via county action.
Paul Ayers February 17, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Dear Dan-Thank you for your story on the ACT. I think some clarifying comments would be helpful. First, the SMMC acquisition will not significantly advance closure of the ACT west side gap, unless the route of the ACT is determined to be down Millard Canyon. If that is the case, the SMMC acquisition and AFC purchase advances the goal but does not achieve it. Most of the land between the southern boundary of the AFC purchase and Hahamonga is privately owned; during the ACT 2006 scoping meetings there was intense opposition by some of these private landowners to a trail through their property. So unless this opposition can be overcome, the current route of the ACT west from Chaney Trail, with a portion of it running on the street, will remain unchanged. With regard to the Rubio Gap, a connection to that portion of the ACT running east from Eaton Canyon to the AFC parcels can be easily achieved. Once on AFC land a network of already opened trails can carry the ACT to the Right-of-Way Trail, the main Rubio Canyon trail. The problem is to get from there to Cobb Estate. The thought circa 2004-2006 was to build a new trail above the houses in the Rubio Vista development to a junction with the Sam Merrill. This route, however, runs through the Angeles National Forest and getting trail approval from the USDA-FS is fairly tough. Until such permissions can be obtained an ACT connection from Rubio to Cobb estate cannot be made.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) February 17, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Paul, thanks for the info. It sounds like the Forest Service issue in Rubio definitely complicates thing a little bit, but also reiterates the need for the county to step in and work on the project. Too bad about the issue on the west side - it would be nice if there was more of a chance to not connect over surface streets. But getting as far as La Vina in trail only would still be a great improvement to the trail system.
Nico February 17, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I thought the proposed trail went up to the top of Sunset Ridge, down to Millard, down the stream past the cabins all the way to Canyon Crest. The Map shows a different route -- which is correct or is this a fluid situation?
Paul Ayers February 17, 2012 at 08:15 PM
The matter is still fluid. Originally the east La Vina trail was supposed to bend east once it crossed Sunset Ridge and cross into the Angeles National Forest (“ANF”) as quickly as possible. The thought was that the trail would continue through the ANF, hook up with the existing connector trail between the Millard Campground parking lot and the Mount Lowe Fire Road, and follow that trail down to the parking lot. From the parking lot the hiker could then go down Millard Canyon on the trail past the cabins and meet up with the La Vina west trail. As I understand the tentative settlement, the entire 40 acre parcel held by the La Vina HOA that is north of Sunset Ridge will be deeded to the SMMC. If so, I have mapped two nice connector trails which could link the east and west trails without entering the ANF at all thus avoiding the lengthy process of getting trail approval from the Forest Service

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