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Beilenson Seeks Funds for Expansion of Park : Congress: Subcommittee hears a request for at least $4.3 million to add to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.


WASHINGTON — Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson asked Congress on Wednesday to provide $4.3 million to $8 million for continued expansion of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Beilenson's request, the first step in the congressional budget process, exceeds the $3 million in land acquisition funding that President Clinton included in his 1996 budget request last month.

"We appreciate very much your support in the past and we understand your budgetary constraints," Beilenson, a Democrat representing parts of Thousand Oaks, told a House appropriations subcommittee.

Fiscal pressures are expected to make competition for park funding especially intense this year. In addition, Republicans are pushing a plan, which is still being drawn up, aimed at reducing National Park Service holdings by transferring some units to state or local governments.

In 1994, Clinton proposed $5 million for the Santa Monicas, and Congress approved that amount. But land acquisition money for the vast mountain corridor--which cuts a swath from eastern Ventura County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles--has fallen significantly from the early 1990s, when the recreation area received more funds than any other park in the nation.

The Santa Monicas still have a long way to go to reach the official goal of 35,000 acres. Over the past 15 years, Congress has appropriated more than $150 million and roughly 21,000 acres have been purchased.

Acting park Supt. Scott E. Erickson said some of the money that Beilenson has requested could be used to buy land needed to complete the Backbone Trail, a 65-mile path from Point Mugu to Will Rogers State Historic Park.

Six miles of the trail remain to be blazed, and Erickson said the byway could be completed in three years if the acquisition funds are approved.

Land in the Santa Monicas costs the park an average of $1,900 an acre, Erickson said, so $4.3 million could mean more than 2,200 acres.

"This would be very exciting for us," he said.

Erickson said that in addition to buying land for the Backbone Trail, the money might be used to purchase private property that is already surrounded by parkland, particularly in Zuma and Trancas canyons.

Beilenson's request, an annual rite for the author of the 1978 legislation creating the Santa Monicas, was one of dozens that the subcommittee received Wednesday in a daylong session devoted to congressional testimony. One after another, lawmakers plugged their favorite local parks and laid out the case for additional federal funding.

"I think I'm probably here with the most modest request anyone will make," said Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), lobbying for $200,000 for the Stones River National Battlefield.

"If you have $2.5 million that you don't know what to do with, it will be used very well," said Rep. Bill Goodling (R-Pa.), seeking to repair the sewage system at the Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Beilenson, in addition to the Santa Monica Mountains funding, requested support for two pet causes--a conservation program for African elephants and another aimed at tigers and rhinoceroses.

Correspondent Ira E. Stoll in Thousand Oaks contributed to this story.

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