After many years of limited access to Fish Canyon Falls above Azusa in the Angeles National Forest, the public can now hike to the iconic waterfalls 365 days a year. On Wednesday evening, June 18, 2014, the new access trail was dedicated in a public ceremony, and on Saturday morning, June 21, 2014, 7 a.m., the trail was officially opened for public use. And I just had to be part of history.
I hike all over the San Gabriel Mountains, but since I live in Azusa, Fish Canyon has captured my fancy. Part of the allurement has been the fact that I couldn’t have it anytime I wanted it. The massive quarry operation in the mouth of the canyon had limited the public access, leaving as the primary legal options either a torturous climb over Van Tassel Ridge, or ridding through the quarry in a rented van provided by Vulcan Materials on a limited number of Saturdays.
I won’t recite the history here, since I’ve proffered much detail in my blog post of January 29, 2011. And in my Fish Canyon hike description page I provide an overview of the Fish Canyon saga along with links to numerous hike reports and blog posts of my many adventures in Fish Canyon.
As the calendar turned to 2014, Vulcan Materials Company was on the final stretch toward fulfilling the promised public access to Fish Canyon. The public debates were over, the mining permits were in place, and the legal barriers were hurdled. Now Vulcan had to build a parking lot and a trail through an active mining site by the prescribed August 2014 deadline. I was thankful for the opportunity to interact with Vulcan personnel to provide input and get updates. I was hoping the access trail would be completed by April or May before the springtime beauty morphs into scratchy weeds and bone-dry creeks. It’s not much fun hiking to a waterfall with no water!
Facebook Hiking Page reflected the public’s enthusiasm for the new access trail.
Wednesday, June 18 – Dedication Day!
I snap pictures of the information to read later. At about 5:40 the sun drops behind Van Tassel Ridge providing some welcome shade on the event.
I am pleased to see City of Duarte Mayor Liz Reilly here, along with City Manager Daryl George. That community had fought vehemently against the plans that would make this day a reality…not that they were against the access trail, but they had a significantly different view of how mining should be carried out here. In addressing the gathering, Mayor Reilly speaks of partnership moving ahead into the future. The 45 people sitting in the audience seem swallowed up in the sea of 200 chairs. Partially into the ceremony the P.A. system fails and presenters have to rely on old-school voices to be heard. Stan Bass, Senior Vice President of Vulcan Materials, also makes some remarks and speaks of continued partnership and earning public trust. I am greatly disappointed that no one from the U.S. Forest Service is here. Something is sadly wrong with them.
Soon Peg Casey arrives with Councilman Macias and Mayor Reilly. Jeff Cameron from Vulcan arrives by truck and we all enjoy a good conservation. It’s fun being with Atisthan and Peg again. During the public hearing stage of the mining proposal in 2010, I interacted with them a lot and they were incredibly responsive in providing answers to every question I had about the project. It’s great to see Duarte’s Mayor here at this location and excited about the future. Hmmm, where’s Mayor Rocha and the other councilmen? They didn’t make it this far. Jeff takes a group back with him in his truck and Mike and I walk down the new trail together.
Saturday, June 21 -
newspaper and is lighting up social media. And since Vulcan has not offered its shuttle-ride access days this year as they were building the access trail, I’m thinking there may be a sizeable crowd today.
I drive back to the Vulcan gate and just wait.
I figure I can be the first one on the trail, and if I keep a good pace, I can be the first one to hike the new access trail on opening day. I quickly exit my car, take a few pics, and hit the trail.
My pace is quick as I want to be the vanguard. There’s a montage of thoughts bouncing in my head. I reflect on many shuttle rides through this quarry on access days, on my recent trips on this route, on years of public debate over the fate of this site, on the interacting with Vulcan personnel in the planning process, on what words I’ll type to memorialize this day, and on the hikers from six vehicles who are not far behind me.
In another five minutes I reach the “big rock.” Passing another beautifully-done informational kiosk, the trail transitions to a more natural footpath. It’s more rustic than we’d expect of an established trail. Vulcan officials have explained to me that because their riparian restoration efforts were certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council, they are restricted in what they can do in clearing vegetation and grading the trail. Seems silly to me. Somehow we must find a good balance between conservation and human use.
I am disappointed that no one has trimmed the tree branches that block the bridge. Vulcan can’t technically do it because it’s in the national forest. And the U.S. Forest Service isn’t doing it. I was going to do it myself but decided to let it stand to punctuate the problems with the FS. Various maintenance needs were reported to the FS over this past year, but they’ve done nothing. Portions of the trail are covered with rocks and there is a large tree that blocks the route. A Vulcan person told me that they had contacted the FS, but the person they talked with simply said, “Well, we can close the trail.” Typical government bureaucrat! And I don’t think it’s a matter of not having enough money. It’s a mentality. And they weren’t even at the dedication ceremony on Wednesday!! I’m about to cross the bridge into the national forest onto a trail that is in their inventory, yet the FS seems derelict in showing any sense of responsibility for the trail.
The creek is dry. A couple deer scamper up the mountainside. I’m still ahead of the others so my pace is earnest to stay ahead. Poison oak leaves are turning red. The non-native grasses and weedy plants are dead and encroaching onto the trail. There is virtually nothing in bloom except the California buckwheat. As the trail drops near the creek, it feels strange that a scene that in spring is amazingly beautiful with a gurgling stream and lush plants is now waterless and parched. The tree of heaven jungle feels like a jungle. A large white alder still blocks the path. Really, how hard would it have been for the FS to bring in a chain saw and clear the trail for the grand opening! Maybe we do need the U.S. Park Service to come in and prop up the deficiencies of the FS.
minding the seasons when selecting a hike. Typical I would not be on this trail in late June, particularly in a drought year, but today I’m a part of history.
I cross the stream coming down from Darlin’ Donna Falls and there is a trickle of water flowing. In a few more minutes I get to the main creek and it’s bone dry. Climbing along the east wall now, I’m still in full shade. And I’m still ahead of everyone else. The rare Dudleya densiflora is in bloom (see blog post from 7-7-11). I’ll have to visit it on my return. There is an eerie silence as I approach the falls.
Soon there is about 15 of us here, some with noisy voices. Most of those I talk with are here for the first time, and many of those read about it in the newspaper this week. It’s kind of a disappointing experience for them but they can look forward to March or April to enjoy the real Fish Canyon Falls. Others arrive and some leave. At one point it’s just two of us here, but not for long. Art and Anna Ramirez arrive; they are fellow Azusians who helped bring this day to reality. Today is a very different feel from the springtime access days in the past where hundreds would converge on a spectacular waterfall. I linger as the sun creeps down the face of the falls. I rarely find it easy to leave here. I’ve counted 48 people and four dogs who have arrived at the falls today.
10:25 - Leave the falls. The canyon is in full sun now. My pace is relaxed. I encounter a lone occurrence of Botta’s clarkia, aka farewell-to-spring…fitting for this first day of summer.
see blog post from 7-7-11). I show them to four others who are returning from the falls, including a young man I met at the dedication on Wednesday. We walk together, cross the dry creek, and in a few minutes take a side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls. It’s still flowing…kind of meager, but it’s a waterfall. We continue along and I point out a few plants. Soon I let them go as I saunter along. Others are coming and going, but not like the throngs of the past.
Now the tree stands stone dead. I have no idea if it’s related to the drought or the surrounding cape ivy (Delairea odorata), a horribly invasive and destructive weed that covers 500,000 acres in California. Another white alder nearby is dead too.
mind the seasons. My pace is slow as I soak in the spectacular scenery of the quarry in the full sun.
2:20 - Finish hike. There are 20 cars in the lot. From the point of leaving the falls until now, I counted 60 people heading to the falls; 25 of those were in the access trail section since I left the bridge at 1:40. So with the 48 people I counted at the falls and the 60 I counted after, and including me, there were 109 of us hiking to Fish Canyon Falls today between 7 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. And I was pleased that each of the five dogs I encountered on the trail today was on a leash.
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