A Greener Vision for Los Angeles: A San Gabriel Mountains Recreation Area

10/28/2011 05:35 pm ET | Updated Dec 28, 2011

On our nation's spectacular public lands, there's much more that meets the eye than scenic beauty.

Public lands offer opportunities for low-cost and healthy outdoor recreation that can greatly benefit an American population that seems to be increasingly afflicted by thinner wallets and wider waistlines. Activities such as hiking, biking, fishing and simply picnicking outdoors are wonderful ways to get outside and enjoy the lands that belong to us all.

And in Southern California, such activities are surprisingly close by. Many popular spots in the San Gabriel Mountains are less than an hour's drive from downtown Los Angeles. However, the enjoyment of this beautiful outdoor area is being hampered for its millions of annual visitors by aging facilities and areas in need of repair. Steps down to river areas are broken. Bathrooms and water fountains are old, or not available.

For several years, San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a partnership of which The Wilderness Society is a founding member, has been steadily building support for a way to better supervise and maintain the outdoor area. The solution they put forth is the establishment of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Recreation Area. This designation would bring the attention and the resources to the mountains that are necessary to transform it into the beautiful and functional place that it should be.

For years, the concept of a National Recreation Area has been the dream of many communities. With so many LA neighborhoods desperate for parks or healthy outdoor activities, a recreation area that includes the forests, as well as San Gabriel River sections near urban neighborhoods, would be a watershed moment.

And now this concept is taking another big step forward. The National Parks Service will present its study of the San Gabriel Mountains and Watershed and its four alternatives for a National Recreation Area in five Los Angeles County public meetings, with the first this Saturday, Oct. 29 in El Monte, Calif. Other meetings will be held Nov. 14-17 in Palmdale, Pomona, Santa Clarita and Tujunga.

Of the four, San Gabriel Mountains Forever supports Alternative D which includes the San Gabriel Mountains, portions of the San Gabriel River in urban areas, and the Puente-Chino Hills. This option best represents the suggestions and previous public comments that SGMF has supported. The National Park Service would play a lead management role providing services such as visitor education and open space management, while the Forest Service would remain the lead managing agency.

A National Recreation Area could be the catalyst for both preserving precious wild lands and rivers, and improving tourist services by adding more visitor and cultural programs, removing graffiti and improving bikeways along the San Gabriel River. The plan offers a promising vision for this range that soars to more than 10,000 feet at its highest peaks, is home to endangered species, and is a key watershed for the San Gabriel River and other waterways.

In many areas of southern California, Los Angeles in particular, children often go outside to find pavement instead of parks.

A greener and healthier Los Angeles. That dream is possible with a San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area in its backyard.