While out on a hike on the Upper Falls Trail just this last week, I happened upon more plastic refuse than usual. Plastic water bottles and food packaging seem to be on the increase in and around the pools just above Sturtevant Falls. It’s really getting crazy. Sadly crazy. What amazes me is that we’re not talking about the immediate trailhead and turnouts up and down the Chantry Road, this area is nearly two miles in from Chantry Flats. To be a litterbug this far in takes motivation. Where is the disconnect in some people’s thoughts to leave trash like this?
The Angeles National Forest’ annual operating budget continues to diminish as the years go by. The entire U.S. Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, is feeling the budget crunch across the country. Essentially, the Angeles is a recreational forest, with no timber harvesting and very little mining going on. The majority of funding received by this forest goes to fire suppression. I recently saw a statistic up at the Big Pines Visitor Center that cited 96% of all fires that start on the Angeles are in some way caused by people. I’m assuming that the remaining 4% is started by lightning, which primarily strikes in the high country areas of the San Gabriel mountains. So, with that, the administrative emphasis will continue to be centered on reducing fire risks (hazard reduction) and responding to fire starts.
What’s left of budget, then, is a thin slice of funding for recreation. USFS staff assigned to maintaining and developing recreation sites are few and far between. In fact, it would be fair to say that those staff continue to have larger and larger territories of the Angeles to maintain. Taking care of campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads has become daunting in the last couple of decades. And while budgets for paid staff continue to fall, forest users continue to increase in number. Day use in the Chantry Flat Recreation Area continues to climb and climb. Five years back or more, one could more or less predict that a mid-week visit to Chantry might be rather quiet and unpeopled. Now, especially since the Station Fire of 2009 and the ever expanding advent of the internet, any day of the week can find the parking areas at the Gabrielino and Upper Winter Creek trailheads filled with cars. There might even be cars parked in turnouts a short distance down the road. I’m talking about Tuesdays or Wednesdays!
Volunteers continue to help throughout the Angeles in the maintenance of trails, cleaning up trash, eradicating graffiti, taking care of campsites / picnic areas, cleaning public toilets and much, much more. Fortunately, much of the Angeles, including the Big Santa Anita Canyon, has had its’ hard working volunteers to fill in the wide gaps over the years. However, there’s only so much volunteering can accomplish in the operation of any national forest. We need more paid staff out on the trails around busy places like Chantry. Some tasks, such as routinely cleaning restrooms and outhouses, should be paid. Period. Having a law enforcement presence in high-use areas on the forest is also necessary and requires funding. There needs to be a Forest Service presence on the trails to help educate and model responsible outdoor practices for forest visitors and,ultimately, for the protection of the land.
If the wear and tear on our canyon and the rest of the Angeles’ front country is getting to you, pick up the phone, send a letter or e-mail your Forest Service. Go to the Angeles National Forest website for contact information. If you’re not satisfied with your progress within the Angeles N.F. bureaucracy, contact your local congress person and let them know your concerns. In the end, Forest Service budgets are decided upon in Washington, DC. On a much more local level, the Chantry Flats Recreation area is administered by the Los Angeles River Ranger District of the Angeles. The phone number for the LARRD is: (818) 899-1900. While volunteering on our national forests will always be necessary, getting rangers hired and back out on the trails is imperative if we’re going to keep up with the influx of visitors to our mountains. It’s all about priorities.