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Cleared Trail Leads to Mt. Wilson's Past

May 08, 1986|ROD LAZO | Times Staff Writer

They were not aware of it, but the 35 members of the Chinese American Outdoor Club who spent a recent weekend hacking overgrown weeds and clearing boulders from the Mt. Wilson Trail were repeating history.

As far as the volunteers were concerned, their work during the two hot days was simply a way to "put something back" into the mountains they enjoy on weekend camping and hiking excursions. What they did not know was that they were the second group of Asians to clear brush on one of the routes to 5,710-foot Mt. Wilson.

The first group consisted of about 200 immigrant Chinese and Japanese laborers who were hired in 1906 to widen the original Mt. Wilson Toll Road so a telescope could be transported to the top for what was to become the Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Now, 80 years later, members of the outdoor club and about 30 other volunteers met at the top of the trail and began to work their way down what had become an almost impassable path overgrown with a variety of wild trees and plants.

Water Diversion Bars Constructed

The sound of a chain saw echoed annoyingly over the quiet terrain as volunteers struggled to unearth the roots of plants that had grown wild for years. Occasionally one of the workers would spot a boulder off to the side and drag it back to the trail, which was being lined with rocks to form "water bars" to keep rain from washing it away.

At the end of the two-day project, the dusty, sweaty volunteers, one of them scratching a fresh case of poison oak, trudged wearily back up the trail, surveying with satisfaction a mile-long path cleared of debris.

"There were a lot of insects and I have bites all over, but it was worth it," said Loudeam Andrews, who left her home shortly after 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning to participate in the project.

"I feel like I'm doing something useful," said Andrews, an elementary school teacher from Los Angeles who spends most of her weekends working on trail repairs.

Charles Jones, chairman of the San Gabriel Trails Committee of the Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club, which helped sponsor the trail renovation project, said, "For a long time I used to hike the trails, and I felt I got so much enjoyment I should do something so that others can enjoy them."

The effort was part of California Trail Days, a statewide weekend campaign led by the Recreational Trails Committee of the state Department of Parks and Recreation to promote volunteer work on hiking and horseback trails.

More than 40 hiking and nature-preservation organizations throughout the state spent the weekend April 19 and 20 working on about 20 trail maintenance projects, including restoration of trails in the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains, areas in Riverside and Santa Barbara counties and parts of Northern California.

The Sierra Club Angeles chapter, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties, concentrated its efforts on the mile-long segment of the trail that runs from the parking lot near the Mt. Wilson Observatory to Harvard Saddle on the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, a point about midway between the peaks of Mt. Wilson and Mt. Harvard.

Mt. Harvard, at 5,440 feet, sits directly south of Mt. Wilson beside the old toll road.

"Our trail system is a priceless resource, yet many trails are badly deteriorated. Some, like the Harvard segment, disappeared entirely," Jones said.

He said the Sierra Club hopes through its program to bring to the attention of hikers the poor condition of many trails and to provide an opportunity for people to become involved in trail building and maintenance.

The Mt. Wilson Trail was chosen, Jones said, because it is easily accessible and a restored trail there will offer visitors to Mt. Wilson the opportunity to take a short, easy hike.

Trail Is Historic

The trail's history also was a factor in its selection.

"It's a historic trail, one of the oldest in the Angeles National Forest," Jones said.

The trail was first cleared in 1864 by Benjamin D. Wilson, a farmer and former mayor of Los Angeles who had it built by Mexican and Indian laborers so he could transport pine and cedar from the top of the mountain that now bears his name to his ranch near what is now San Marino. The logging venture was abandoned several years later, but in the meantime, visitors from the lowlands discovered the trail and it became a favorite of hikers.

In 1889, the mountain's first telescope, a 13-inch photographic instrument owned by Harvard University, was taken up the trail and installed. Subsequently, Mt. Harvard was named after the university because scientists and workers camped there when planning for the observatory on Mt. Wilson.

Access to the trail at Harvard Saddle was obscured when the toll road was expanded in 1906 to transport a 60-inch telescope to the observatory.

Road Widened Again

Between that time and 1917, when the toll road was again widened to accommodate a 100-inch telescope, the increasingly inaccessible Mt. Wilson Trail fell into disuse, a condition that continued until now.

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