• Posted on 31 August 2005
  • By Virgil Shields

Photo courtesy Virgil Shields

: reflecting on the Club's legacy of successful conservation of local wilderness and wildlife. The California Desert Protection Act created the 1.6-million acre Mojave National Preserve in 1994. The Angeles Chapter was instrumental in securing legal protection not only for the land, but also for the ancient petroglyphs, unusual rock formations, historic buildings, mines, and underground caverns scattered throughout the Preserve.

Early one morning a few years back, a friend and I arose early and hiked 1000 feet up to the crest of a ridge overlooking Towsley Canyon in northern L.A. County. Beyond was a vision that reminded me of ocean waves breaking on a pristine shore. Past the abrupt end of the rolling hills of the canyon, the crest of the wave was formed by a solid mass of same-looking houses packed in without any obvious spaces of green. We were awed by this visage of what the rampant quest for developer profits could do to such a wonderful landscape under the guise of creating family homes.

From that vantage point, the importance of the third pillar of Sierra Club's purpose was apparent. It is important that we take our members and others outdoors to experience our remaining heritage and to encourage them to take responsibility for the future of themselves and their planet.

As part of the Santa Monica Mountain region, Towsley Canyon is near the northeastern edge where numerous battles for sensible growth are being waged. Some battles, such as Placerita Canyon, we won. But a litany of others like Newhall Ranch, Riverpark, and Tejon Ranch remain battlefronts for our ardent Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley activists.

Conservation hikes

As one critical part of the conservation battle, numerous hikes and less arduous excursions are conducted into or near the at-risk areas. These outings are listed in our Group newsletters and the Chapter Schedule of Activities. Outings of this sort have been successful activities for many years.

Conservation hikes offer a way for you, your family, and friends to enjoy the outdoors and to find out what you can do to help.

The Santa Monica Mountains are gems that waver on the precarious edge of survival. They provide a place for retreat and recreation thanks to treasured activists such as Sue Nelson and many others. Sue's legacy lives not only in the Santa Monicas, but also within many of the new activists that she helped empower to fight for urban parks.

In the 1960s and 70s, Lynne Plambeck and others also proved that the community could beat City Hall. The City's attempt to put a Convention Center in the middle of Elysian Park was defeated. In the wake of Plambeck's efforts, our Urban Parks Committee is working to get activists in inner cities to adopt a local park, to become aware of the needs and threats to 'their' park, to lead educational trips into those parks, and help strengthen community awareness.

Chapter Activity Sections

The Chapter's activity sections were created by volunteers to expose members and non-members to particular outdoor areas by foot, bike, skis, canoe, kayak, horse, and mule.

They were also organized by our volunteers to provide an outdoor experience for special groups of families: those with young kids, inner city children, those with disabilities, and those who wish to enjoy the outdoors with their pets.

In our Griffith Park Section, for example, we lead weeknight and weekend conditioning hikes where we expose new people to the needs of the country's largest urban park-an especially important lesson as a new Master Plan is in development for the park.

The Outskirts of the Angeles Chapter

Our Angeles Chapter is more than just the northern and central parts of Los Angeles County. Important battles are being waged and successes achieved in the western, southern and eastern areas of L.A. County and throughout Orange County.

The combined efforts of the Sierra Club and a number of other dedicated groups have led a years-long fight to preserve sections of the Ballona wetlands, the largest remaining wetland in the L.A. basin. This western edge of L.A. County contains some of the basin's richest biodiversity. Tours have revealed to many the richness of the region and the importance of the natural cleansing action of the wetlands.

Further south in Orange County, such tours have helped in the preservation of much of the Bolsa Chica wetlands near Huntington Beach, an area threatened with extinction from all sides.

Our recent Emerald Necklace tour took folks on a bus trip of the proposed network of urban parks along the San Gabriel River. Some of these parks already exist, while others are in the process of being created. Families will be able to walk, picnic, and relax in these urban oases, linked along 17 miles of trails. As with all of our efforts, our volunteers and small staff have worked wonders in achieving what others thought impossible.

Educational Outings

Further south, our political and legal actions have been supplemented by educational outings in a host of battles like Hobo Aliso Ridge, Coyote Hills, Santa Ana Mountains and River, Saddleback Canyons, Putiidhem, Dana Point Headlands, and Rancho Mission Viejo.

Our educational outings continue to be an important way of demonstrating the effects of the pressure placed on the Cleveland National Forest by rampant and uncoordinated expansion south along the 5, 215, and 15 freeways. This expansion seeks to carve Cleveland into pieces with tollways and fanciful energy ventures like the Lake Elsinore Advanced Pump Storage Project, which does nothing to secure our energy future.

Protected desert wildlands

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. A principal achievement of this legislation was the creation of Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and the wildlife corridor in-between, called the Mojave National Preserve.

Every May, our Leadership Training program leads a map and compass exercise in the high country of the preserve to remind folks of those efforts.

The power of one

It was not easy at first for me to share some of my supposedly limited time to help preserve what was seemed doomed to disappear. 'What difference could I make?' and 'why me?' were questions that I asked frequently. To myself I now answer: if I sit back and do nothing, who can I blame when the earth falls apart?

I saw the power of a single voice firsthand when a letter that I wrote changed the opinion of one key city councilperson on a conservation bill. That change of opinion resulted in the creation of a new city park. The many visitors of the parapets at Stoney Point are probably unaware that it was once headed toward demise.

Our continual trips to such places are reminders of all of those precarious edges on which our heritage survives.

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