THE BLOG
06/18/2014 06:59 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2014

San Gabriel Mountains and River Corridor Deserve Permanent Protection

The San Gabriel Mountains are a defining feature for the entire Los Angeles region. Rising high above the hustle and bustle of city life below, their snow-capped peaks form a majestic crown for the City of Angels. It's no surprise then, that the San Gabriels attract a lot of foot traffic - from nature hikers climbing to reach new heights, to parents taking their kids to enjoy a picnic by the river. What many people don't know, however, is just how much strain this region is under to keep up with demand for outdoor space and recreational opportunities.

Nearly 15 million people call Los Angeles Metropolitan area home - it's second only to New York City in overall population in the United States. Despite that fact, it remains one of the most park poor regions of the country. We face two challenges as a result: there are very few options for Angelenos to enjoy the outdoors, and the options we do have are under immense stress from overuse.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the San Gabriel Mountains. Tranquil trails and riverside landings are blanketed with graffiti and trash that's overflowing from receptacles. Safety hazards - both man-made and natural - beg the question as to why signs are so few and far between. Increased fire dangers, decreased water quality, and threats to the region's unique ecology have become par for the course. The Forest Service grapples with the more than 3 million visitors annually with only a handful of local staff devoted to managing recreation. Communities across the region have told me loud and clear that they love the San Gabriel Mountains, and appreciate the hard work of Forest staff. But the forest and rivers need help, and more robust permanent protection. And we can achieve this by creating partnerships among agencies and communities.

That's why I introduced legislation in Congress that would designate the San Gabriel Mountains, river corridor, and Puente Hills as a National Recreation Area (NRA). The designation would bolster the management efforts of the Forest Service by allowing the National Park Service (NPS) to contribute to community-based, community-driven projects focused on sustainable recreation, education, and preservation of local habitats and history.

The potential for more resources could mean more local parks along the river corridor, safer access and more connections to existing trails and bike paths, as well as new signs, bathrooms, picnic areas and visitor services for the public to enjoy.

My bill also empowers local communities to collaborate on recreational plans and projects in ways that don't exist today. Through extensive community input, the bill creates a management partnership composed of robust local leadership by local elected officials and stakeholders, representing the diverse priorities of the area. The vision of this NRA began with the community and it will be realized by the community.

In fact, the effort to protect this region began more than a decade ago with then-Congresswoman Hilda Solis. I picked up where she left off. Thanks to the input of local residents and stakeholders alike, we formulated a bill that meets the needs of our community. Everyone from water associations to utility companies, and local governments to economic partnerships provided input and had their voices heard.

The San Gabriel Mountains deserve the resources and recognition already afforded to other sites around the country, such as the Santa Monica Mountains NRA and the Golden Gate NRA. We owe it to our children to ensure they remain as majestic for future generations as they have for our own. Now it is up to Congress to act, and help carry this long-running community effort for the final mile-and-a-half to President Obama's desk to be signed into law. Additionally, I welcome the support of the administration to help ensure this special landscape gets the protection it so urgently needs.