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Community Outreach

Thousands will link hands in Santa Monica Mountains to mark 20th year of recreational area.


A couple of years ago, back country enthusiast Jeff Blum came up with a wacky idea: Get thousands of people to link hands in a human chain spanning the Santa Monica Mountains.

It would be a zany 1970s-style symbolic gesture, a five-minute handshake commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

More important, it would also spotlight these underappreciated mountains, spread the word about the "little Yosemite" right here in Los Angeles' backyard, he thought.

Impossible? On April 19, Blum hopes to pull it off. If all goes as planned, about 20,000 people--perhaps many thousands more--will join hands at 10 a.m., forming a chain along Mulholland Highway from Leo Carrillo State Beach through the mountains into Los Angeles.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Blum, event chairman and Thousand Oaks resident who launched the annual Calabasas Pumpkin Festival six years ago. He heads a marketing company and serves as director of the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, which raises money for projects in the recreation area.

For 18 months, Blum's group and others, including National Park Service officials, have explored the logistics of plotting Hands Across the Parklands, sort of a mini-version of the 1986 national event, Hands Across America, which drew 5 million participants.

They mapped a 60-mile route along Mulholland, little more than a dirt road in places. They sought sponsors to help cover the estimated $200,000 cost of the event. They appealed for people to form the chain. They searched for 400 buses to haul hand holders to spots along the route, and even calculated the need for outdoor toilets spaced a quarter-mile apart.

Then El Nino tossed them a curveball. Heavy rains washed out portions of Mulholland, forcing Blum to improvise. Now the plan calls for the chain to wind 32 miles along Mulholland from the ocean to Topanga Canyon. From there, a relay team of runners, bicyclists, equestrians and wheelchair riders are to fill in the broken links in the 29-mile section to Griffith Park. Others will add their hands in a more symbolic fashion, with handprints on banners strung along the way.

Even a 32-mile chain of folks pressing the flesh sounds daunting. Calculating 1,156 people per mile, Blum expects they'll need about 37,000 bodies to complete it. So far, they have about 20,000. But that doesn't count an unknown number of people he expects will just show up.

"We'll have a chain, whether we have 2,000 or 500,000," Blum said. "If it's not complete, it will still be a successful event. We'll raise awareness and have a great party."

Participants can simply "gather a bunch of friends and pop on out" for the free event, Blum said. Or, they can reserve a spot along the route through Ticketmaster and pay a $3 handling fee, a portion of which will be donated back to the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. Ticketmaster will direct them to one of 14 staging areas near the route where they can board buses for a ride to their designated link in the chain on the day of the event.

Whole groups also are signing up for bigger chunks in the chain--schools, Scout troops, outdoor groups, businesses, local cities and governmental agencies.

The event kicks off at 7 a.m. when the relay--or "treelay," as Blum calls it--begins at Griffith Park with relay participants passing a coastal oak sapling off to one another along the way. Ultimately, it will be planted at Malibu Creek State Park.

Those in the human chain will turn on their portable radios and grasp hands at 10 a.m. Two radio stations, KNX-AM (1070) and LITE-FM (92.7), are expected to broadcast the event live, marking the moment by playing a song from Barbra Streisand's new album.

The song, called "At the Same Time," is about "people joining in a celebration of life--not waiting for a tragedy" to bring them together, he said.

For Blum, the song is perfect for the occasion. "When was the last time Los Angeles had something to celebrate," he said. "A lot of things have gone on that have been negative. This is positive."

After the song, the human chain will disperse, but the festivities won't be over. For the rest of the day, special events are planned at the staging areas, or "discovery sites," which include a number of parks such as Leo Carrillo State Park on the coast, Rancho Sierra Vista in Newbury Park and Paramount Ranch near Agoura Hills, to name a few.

Docents will lead hikes, and other goings-on include Chumash cultural activities, art exhibits, entertainment and mountain-biking demonstrations. Souvenir hunters can buy T-shirts, water bottles, maps and books commemorating the event.

The idea is to draw attention to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Blum said. Congress established this patchwork of parkland as a recreation preserve in 1978. But in Blum's view, millions of people cruise the Ventura Freeway without considering what's in the mountains.

"They don't know what we have," he said.

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