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Hiking: Los Angeles

Native Woodlands Thrive in City Niche

August 28, 1994|JOHN McKINNEY

Like the flatlands surrounding it, Mt. Washington near Downtown Los Angeles was used for sheep and cattle-raising in the 19th Century. And, as they do now, city residents enjoyed hiking and picnicking on its slopes.

Just three miles from City Hall, on the southwest slopes of Mt. Washington, is L.A.'s newest nature preserve, a living example of the Los Angeles of 200 years ago.

"The protection of wild land is always satisfying, but preserving a place like Elyria Canyon in the heart of the city is deeply gratifying," says Clare Marter-Kenyon, president of the Mt. Washington Assn. and one of the many determined conservationists who, aided by the funds and tactical skills of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, saved the canyon land from a 180-unit condo.

Elyria Canyon Park is an impressive black walnut woodland. The height and girth of the walnut trees, along with the tree-sized stature of toyon and blue elderberry bushes, suggest the canyon has not burned in several decades.

Botanists in particular are thrilled by the canyon's remnant communities of native flora--walnut woodland, coastal sage scrub, chaparral and grassland. Native plant lovers are especially delighted by patches of purple needlegrass (once bountiful in Southern California). A red barn in the canyon bottom has been restored and is now being transformed into a nature center. Elyria Canyon will soon host weekday visits by schoolchildren.

About two miles of trail meander to and through Elyria Canyon Park, which is administered by the Mountains Conservancy Foundation, the operations arm of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. The paths visit the black walnut woodland and offer a bird's-eye view of the Los Angeles River and Griffith Park Observatory.

To get to the Elyria Canyon Park: From California 2 (near its junction with Interstate 5) exit on San Fernando Road and drive south a few blocks to Cazador Street. Turn left, then make an immediate right onto Cypress Avenue and a left onto Division Street, which you follow to Wollam Street. Turn right and drive to road's end at the new parking lot for Elyria Canyon Park.

Elyria Canyon Trails Where: Elyria Canyon Park, Mt. Washington area of Los Angeles. Distance: A mile or so around Elyria Canyon. Terrain: Rare black walnut woodland, native grassland. Highlights: New nature preserve (Elyria Canyon). City views. Degree of difficulty: Easy.Precautions: Some poison oak near trail. For more information: Mountain Parks Information; tel. 1-800-533-PARK.

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