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Around the Valley

'Once in a while you come down to a place like this and see what it's all for.'

April 23, 1986|DOUG SMITH

Several volunteer organizations that have worked for many years to protect the Santa Monica Mountains took a few minutes away from their labors Sunday to honor one of their own.

They gave the Samuel G. Lutz Memorial Award for volunteerism during a modest ceremony in a wooded area four miles into a canyon in Point Mugu State Park.

The award is named after a former Hughes space scientist who built the first footbridge in Topanga State Park and, until his death in 1983, maintained a regimen of manual labor in the mountains as an antidote to heart disease.

In fitting style, the ceremony on Sunday ended a two-day outpouring of volunteerism called Trail Days. Over the two days, about 150 people came to the park to work on the trails in the Danielson Ranch area.

The ranch, purchased by the state in 1980, lies at the end of an aging, one-lane road that begins at a dirt parking lot just off Potrero Road in Newbury Park.

The road is off limits to automobiles and motor bikes, except those of the park rangers and weekend campers who are allowed to make one trip in and one trip out.

Bicyclists and joggers use the road. But most hikers fan out over dozens of miles of trails that snake through the Boney Mountain State Wilderness, past waterfalls, meadows and rugged ridges.

The trails had been partly washed out this winter and in places needed to be completely reconstructed. The state doesn't have the money to maintain them, so volunteers must do it.

Some of them arrived Friday and camped overnight outside the ranch. By Saturday morning 80 people, including a troop of Webelo Scouts, were at work on the Blue Canyon and Big Sycamore Canyon trails.

Fifty people camped out Saturday night and were joined by more workers on Sunday.

Their task was basic.

"You have to dig; you have to cut; you have to chop; you have to rake and hoe," said Lou Levy, a slender, gray-haired man who worked in blue Western wear.

Levy, an inveterate trail builder, was one of those nominated for the Lutz award this year. But he said trail building offers its own reward.

"It's the most gratifying thing you can do," he said. "We work out, build the trail and hike it back. There is very little you can do in this world where you see the result of your work right away."

Reflecting that attitude, many of the trail builders simply went home when their work was done. Only about 30 people remained to gather in a circular stone picnic area where the ceremony began at 2 p.m.

The ceremony was quick and to the point.

Lutz's widow, Rheba, recalled that her husband was a shy man who "would have been very embarrassed" to have an award named after him.

"He never thought he did anything," she said.

Actor Boyd Holister named the nominees from 21 organizations that do volunteer work in the mountains. Many of the nominees were not there.

Those who were walked forward when they were named.

When it was Levy's turn, Holister asked if he wanted to say anything.

"No," Levy said.

Finally, Rheba Lutz pulled a cover off the award, a slice of tree trunk with a brass plate naming each winner. She read the new name, David Brown.

It was hardly a surprise.

For a decade, Brown, a history professor at Los Angeles Valley College, has been making his intense and bearish presence a sight to inspire both fear and admiration at every public meeting that concerns the commercial development or public acquisition of land in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Brown "has effectively stopped or restricted many inappropriate developments," Holister said. "Whether a pending development is small or large, Dave is always there counting the oak trees, checking for endangered plants, mapping the land and then suggesting the environmentally protective options to the owners and governing agencies. He has gathered over 18,000 signatures urging acquisition of the Backbone Trail."

While playing the role of political activist, Brown has also managed to lead more than 100 Sierra Club hikes into the mountains.

"David M. Brown exemplifies volunteerism at its highest level," Holister said.

Brown was almost as laconic as Levy.

"All I can say is, keep it going," he said. "It gets discouraging sometimes. But once in a while you come down to a place like this and see what it's all for. So just go ahead and keep it up."

Holister closed with a short speech.

"This is a reaffirmation of our love of life in getting out of our own world and doing something for everybody that we're not being paid for--making a gift of yourself for the weekend."

By 4 p.m., park rangers were shuttling the last of the volunteers up the winding road to their cars at the entrance to the park.

When the parking lot was almost empty, Brown was still there, sitting on a bench looking out over a panoramic view of a grassy flat encircled by a rugged ridge line.

It was an almost perfect illusion of untouched nature, marred only by a single white mansion surrounded by a white fence on the top of that ridge.

The naturalist in Brown couldn't help taking offense, but the politician in him was pleased. If the state hadn't bought the land six years ago, he said, it would have been covered with houses.

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