City wants to keep wilderness control close to home

As summer vacationers set out to enjoy the area’s coveted hiking trails and wilderness areas, local officials are working hard to ensure they have the continued ability to do so.

Claremont officials aim to balance the recreational needs of those traversing local trails while also maintaining the landscape guests have come to know and love. In response to the federal government’s proposed changes to the designation and keeping of local open space, the Claremont City Council has reaffirmed its intent to protect the local wilderness area, as well as promote continued local control amid streamlining efforts.

Late last month, Congresswoman Judy Chu met with representatives from local non-government organizations to discuss recent recommendations put forth by the National Park Service (NPS).

One recommendation suggests that local wilderness areas be grouped together with the Santa Monica Recreation Area, under the stewardship of the NPS and a board of other local agencies. However, officials were loud and clear in vocalizing that including local open spaces with a recreation area so far west might not be in the best interest.

“If we are about local control, we should worry about our own wilderness park and not be asking the federal government to come into our wilderness park,” said Councilmember Corey Calaycay. “If we don’t have Claremont people on that board, we can only hope that they will listen to what we want.”

In 2003, the US Congress directed the NPS to conduct a study of the rivers, mountains and other landscape surrounding the 640-square-mile San Gabriel River Watershed. The purpose of the study was to determine what areas of the sprawling watershed, which includes the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, meet the criteria for inclusion in the National Park System.

In June of last year, the city of Claremont drafted a letter to show support for “Alternative D”—designating areas along the San Gabriel Mountains and adjacent foothills of the Angeles National Forest as one collective National Recreation Area. Council members felt this option “provided the most support to enhance the environmental and recreational goals of the [National Recreation Area] without infringing upon local control.”

However, the park service’s final recommendation, released last April, wiped that option from the list. The NPS removed the Angeles National Forest from that previously suggested recreation area and instead proposes that the foothills and San Gabriel River be added to the already existing Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area much farther west.

Locals heavily involved in these issues remind council members of the importance of maintaining the local interest. Claremont resident Marilee Scaff noted the importance of maintaining not only the native landscape of the San Gabriel Mountains but the vital resource of the San Gabriel Valley Watershed, which runs through the local mountainscape.

“This is our water source, and we dare not spoil that,” Ms. Scaff advised, adding, “We don’t want to be overflowed with people having a good time and leaving trash.”

Dean McHenry, Claremont resident and spokesperson for the Claremont Wildlands Society, noted his pleasure with the city’s decision to maintain their support of a local collaborative recreation area, as designated in the original Alternative D.

“It brings together a lot of us that opposed each other. We all support the Wilderness Park but are opposed on issues like hours and parking…The thrust of the original proposal would have helped us solve, in a good way, a wide range of problems,” Mr. McHenry said.

Residents noted the process will be long—perhaps years before legislation is actually introduced and adopted—but urged the council to stay involved. When all is said and done, Ms. Chu will be the one voting for Claremont, Ms. Scaff pointed out. Keeping in contact with Ms. Chu about Claremont’s wishes is paramount, she noted.

Council members responded to their constituents by restating their support of the original Alternative D and proposing to keep Claremont constituents involved. Special council meetings, open to the public, to be be held as legislation moves forward.

“If we stay on the sidelines, the train can go without us,” Mayor Opanyi Nasiali said. “We need to stay engaged.”

—Beth Hartnett


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