Places to Visit: the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and the Bridge to Nowhere

August 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

The Bridge to Nowhere over the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, photos by Carrie Lincourt

Last week, a friend and I took a really great hike up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s an excellent local day hike (9.5 miles round trip) that I highly recommend, though it’s probably best done during cooler seasons – say between late September and early June.  « Read the rest of this entry »

News and Events – 20 June 2010

June 20, 2010 § Leave a comment


On Spring at Los Angeles State Historic Park - photo from CA State Parks

> On Spring has opened at the site of Sam’s Lunch, adjacent to Los Angeles State Historic Park. The restaurant offers healthy yummy food. Mainly open at lunchtime (hours Tues-Sat 11am-3pm.) The park is once again the site of archeological explorations… but there’s still plenty of park open for use!

> Whenever a driver hits the brakes, copper gets onto our roadways and makes its way into our creeks and streams, impairing fish health. H2ONCoast reports that states, including California, are looking to take steps toward making this less of an issue. (and, of course, ride a bike!)

> Are stronger federal protections on the way for the San Gabriel River and the San Gabriel Moutains? L.A. Times’ Louis Sahagun reports on recent efforts


> On Thursday June 24th the city of L.A. hosts a couple of public River Revival meetings where you can get the latest on the city’s riverly revitalization. Same meeting repeats 1pm-4pm and 6pm-9pm at the L.A. River Center and Gardens at 570 West Avenue 26 in Cypress Park. See flier for information.

City Listening II this Saturday

> Creek Freak’s Joe Linton will among many excellent speakers at de LaB’s City Listening II at 7pm on Saturday June 26th 2010 at Spring Arts Tower, 435 S. Spring in Downtown Los Angeles. For more information and to purchase tickets go here. Anyone who arrives by walking, riding their bike or taking public transportation receives a very special walking-themed door prize!

> Creek Freak’s Joe Linton will give a talk on the Los Angeles River at 2pm on Tuesday June 29th 2010 at L.A. County’s Culver City Julian Dixon Library as part of their Make Waves at Your Library Summer Reading Program. The library is located at 4975 Overland Ave., Culver City 90230.

> L.A. and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council hosts  Harvesting the Rain: Decentralized Stormwater Management seminar from 9am-4pm on Wednesday June 30th 2010 at the Autry National Center. Includes afternoon tour of Elmer Avenue.

> The city of Glendale hosts a public meeting for input on future phases of their Glendale Narrows Riverwalk project – including a planned bridge connecting bicyclists and pedestrians to Griffith Park. The meeting is at 6:30pm on Wednesday June 30th 2010 at Glendale’s Grayson Power Plant at 780 Flower Street, Glendale, CA 91201. See Creek Freak background on the project here.

Invasive plants: like pouring oil on water – and setting it on fire.

August 29, 2009 § 9 Comments

My heart goes out to all of you dwelling on the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains, who are either in the evacuation zones or in the smoke zone.  This is a difficult time for all.

These fires are pounding the canyons above some of my favorite waterway haunts.  Up Azusa Canyon, the Morris fire burns around the Morris Dam, which sits on the upper San Gabriel River.  My friends and I shook our heads in disbelief years ago when we saw the Mountain Cove development go in, right in the floodway of of the SGR; now I shake my ahead again, this must be one of LA’s most miserable places to be right now.  To the west, the Station Fire burns above the Arroyo Seco, heading now up Millard Canyon, having run through Brown’s Canyon – as well as over the ridge to the west and into the heights above Tujunga (and thank you, Meredith McKenzie, for the FB updates on its movement).

We all know what this means – come winter, there will be debris flows.  But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

You’ve probably noticed, these fires seem to be occurring with an ominous, greater frequency than in the past.  They also are tending to burn with greater intensity.  I read we are fortunate this time around, it sounds like it is a lower temperature fire.

We all know Southern California rains and burns in cycles.  We will often go 8-10 years pretty dry, then get a good soaking.  Within that, every 15-20 years, it will be more than a soaking – it will be a thunderous wet El Niño hell for about three weeks.  Usually right after several hot, dry years.  But it has seemed that in the last five, ten years or so, the dry has been drier.

So more drier weather, less moisture in those plants up in the forest.  Things tend to burn hotter.  And those hotter temperatures of recent wildfires make recovery of our native habitats more difficult (even the ones that regenerate with fire are adapted to lower temperature, slower fires, believe it or not!), and the non-native material (that pretty fountain grass you see everywhere, mustard, castor bean, etc) that moves in pretty quickly is prone to be drier and burn hotter than even our native chaparral, keeping a downward habitat spiral alive.

Even in streams.  Streams are generally less fire-prone than the uplands, although they too will burn (just less).  I’ve heard some ecologists refer to steams as something like natural fire breaks.  Riparian (stream-side) plants aren’t generally adapted for fires – which means, they don’t generally get exposed to them.  Their higher water content in their leaves and branches generally protects them as well.  But consider that today:

“Riparian and wetland lowland habitats are at high risk from the fires, due to opportunistic exotic plants, including Giant reed (Arundo donax) and other non-native grasses and forbs”. (San Diego Wildfire Education Project)

So if you love hiking in streams but don’t know what all us creekfreaks get worked up about when we start ranting at the Arundo or Cape Ivy or Sticky Eupatorium or LA’s iconic Washingtonia palm tree (aka riparian Roman Candle) or that g@%$& fountain grass in the stream please understand:  this is a big part of why.  For example, on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, the increasing dominance of Russian Olive and Tamarisk (in part facilitated by decrease in natural flood cycles, due to levees – ok, it’s a long story) has resulted in devastating bosque fires, from which the native cottonwood trees aren’t generally regenerating.  You get habitat loss and nasty fires.

We can’t control the lightning strikes that start fires.  We could – but it would be a major political undertaking – control the potential risks caused by electrical utility lines.  And I don’t know if anyone can control kids playing with fire, workers with equipment that accidentally sparks or the myriad other “accidental” things that start fires(remember the heartbroken ranger who was burning letters? I’d hate to have to explain that to the boss).  We could (again p-o-l-i-t-i-c-al) stop building in wildlands, but I don’t know that we will (and in fairness – I totally fantasize about living in Topanga or a cabin up Baldy-way, so this is a conversation between pots and kettles).

But we can be responsible in our landscaping choices, we don’t have to recklessly landscape without knowing whether or not the latest thing at Home Depot is going to turn into the next high-tinder invasive weed nightmare.  We can choose to use native plants, or the non-natives that are demonstrated not to escape.  This is not obvious information, when it comes to landscapes, we generally only know what we are marketed.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but supporting our native habitats generally supports lower-intensity fires.  The San Gabriel Mountains on those steep slopes may not have a lot of the non-native material. It will be interesting to get ahold of the post-mortem of this fire, and see if any further correlations between fire intensity and vegetation type shows up.

In the meantime, stay safe.


Lotsa good reading on this topic:

The Fires This Time, Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council (LASGRWC)

Watershed-Wise:  Brush Clearance, Fuel Reduction, and Fire-safe Landscaping, LASGRWC

Watershed Council Symposia on these topics.

And because I’ve really, really got an axe to grind with fountain grass, an article about its evil cousin, the buffelgrass:

Bonfire of the Superweeds, High Country News

Standing up for Big Tujunga

September 25, 2008 § 1 Comment

Spilling forth from the San Gabriel Mountains, Big Tujunga Wash is an impressive site.  Laden with boulders and white sands, it has made large contributions to the San Fernando Valley aquifer and laid the material for much of the building industry’s large quarries downstream.  

Yet Big Tujunga is more than a rock-and-water factory for us – it is a place of exquisite, and increasingly rare, habitats, of endangered species.  Recreationists visit the Wash, following an equestrial trail that runs alongside it.  

A few years back, citizens objected to a proposed golf course in the Wash’s floodplain, that ultimately got built. Predictably, the wash flooded the golf course.  While inconvenient for the golf course, this project was bad news for wildlife: not only did it displace habitat, even subtle changes to the wash from runoff or adjacent plantings can introduce toxins and invasive species, or change the hydrology of the Wash, increasing erosion or changing the plant composition.  

Google Earth image of Tujunga Wash and proposed development.  Click on image for enlargement.

Google Earth image of Tujunga Wash and proposed development. Click on image for enlargement.

Rick Grubb, environmental representative for the Sunland Tujunga Neighborhood Council, reminded me of these facts recently – and put out the word that the City is yet again considering development that could impact the wash.  

According to Navigate LA, over 1/2 of the property at 11130 Oro Vista falls within the 100-Year Alluvial Floodplain. It also falls within the proposed Rim of the Valley trail area, a project to link the major mountain ranges that encircle the San Fernando Valley.  Rick’s group will fight for the wash at the appeal hearing before the Planning and Land Use Management committee, most likely on October 7.  Considering the wild and wooly nature of this river, the proximity to threatened and endangered species, and an active wildlife corridor, it seems foolish to permit development in this floodplain.  Considering, as Rick points out, that this wash is an “important source of VERY clean water for the city…” which encroaching development could impair, puts us beyond foolish.  Degradation, even if piecemeal, costs us in the long run.

Fortunately Rick and the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council aren’t stopping there – as Rick says in a recent email:  “I am currently working…on crafting 2 new specific plan protection areas.  The first is for the permanent protection of the Big Tujunga Wash wildlife corridor…as a preserve for it’s(sic) rare undisturbed natural riverine habitat, as a river trail parkway, and as a major wildlife corridor…” the second is “for ‘Hillside area native habitat protection'” that will “set…zoning land use limits, fencing (to allow for the continued passage of wildlife) design standards, and…native plant rescue landscaping design requirements…”  Creekfreak wishes the STNC folks the best of luck with this, and looks forward to putting on lugsoles and trekking around with the local experts in the hills and washes of Tujunga.

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