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Proposed Use of Scout Camp Draws Protests

August 09, 1987|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

Where the asphalt on Red Rock Road, in western Topanga, gives way to a bumpy stretch of dirt, county maintenance ends. The dirt section stops abruptly at a white picket fence, where a sign announces the boundary of the state-owned Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy land. This is the entrance to an old Boy Scout camp that is now Red Rock Canyon Park.

The dirt road leading to the park, and a stretch of fire road inside the park, are on private property. The two roads are at the center of a disagreement over the conservancy's attempts to increase the level of recreational activity at the 120-acre site, purchased last year from the Scouts for $250,000.

The neighbors say they support the conservancy's plan to allow the Outward Bound organization to operate a survival-skills school and a reservation-only campground open to the public. However, the Scouts did not use the camp much in recent years and the property owners worry that an influx of traffic on their narrow, winding road could endanger drivers and residents, and alter the peaceful character of their isolated community.

And, although negotiations are friendly at this point, the residents contend that they can influence the outcome by limiting the use of their road.

The dispute is the second time this year that neighbors of a little-used Scout camp have protested the conservancy's efforts to bring in more visitors, and the second time they have used their control of access to the grounds as leverage.

In April, a neighbor of Camp Josepho in Rustic Canyon near Pacific Palisades warned that his 900-foot stretch of the road leading to the camp is not for general use. Another neighbor used her car to block a bus carrying passengers to a ceremony marking the opening of the camp to the public. The camp is still owned by the Western Los Angeles County Council of the Scouts, but the site was to be made available to outside groups on a reservation-only basis as a condition of the conservancy's financing of $250,000 worth of repairs.

At Red Rock, the discussion has been more low-key. In both cases, the neighbors are self-described environmentalists who say they are uncomfortable battling a parks agency. Both cases raise questions about which locations are suitable for public use--and public funds--in the rugged hills where state and federal officials are assembling a network of mountain parks.

"Not every place can have as much public access as we'd like," said Joseph T. Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director. "You have to think really hard about who gets in and who doesn't, because otherwise the geography will defeat you."

Without the existing facilities at the two sites, Edmiston said, the conservancy would never have spent half a million dollars there. 'Were it not for the fact that there is a developed camp at Red Rock Canyon, and its rock formations are so pretty, we wouldn't have bought it," Edmiston said.

"Likewise, if Camp Josepho hadn't already been there, we wouldn't have spent the money to fix it up."

In the face of public desire to use parks and pressure from those nearby to restrict their use, "a lot of people would say, 'Screw the neighbors' or say, 'It's not worth the hassle; we'll just close it off,' " Edmiston said. "There's been too much of that thinking in the mountains already."

Ignoring the neighbors would not be fair and could lead to trouble, he said, but closing off the parks could mean that a generally affluent community gets near-exclusive use of a state-funded expanse of land.

Outward Bound was selected to operate Red Rock Canyon Park in an attempt to compromise, Edmiston said. The organization plans to limit use of the camp's 120 acres to 50 people at a time, and to shuttle participants in vans to minimize traffic.

The conservancy board unanimously voted last week to award a 15-year lease to Outward Bound.

"It's a restriction," said Edmiston, "but Outward Bound has an outreach program, awarding scholarships. They try to aim their programs at youth at risk (disadvantaged urban dwellers), so at least they're opening up the parks to those who need them."

Sandra Blakeslee , a six-year Red Rock Road resident, says the concept is fine. "We're very spoiled," she said. "But we want public access. It's not like we want this to be a private thing that just the residents use. Right now, hikers come in and equestrians come in. And we think Outward Bound is wonderful."

But, she added, "our concern is that eight years down the road, nine years, 10 years . . . they'll have all new people in. They could triple the program. Our position is that right now we have some rights and we should sort this out at the very beginning."

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