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Mountain Trail a Gift to All

January 25, 1998

This is the high season in the Santa Monica Mountains. Walk the trails now, a few days after a rain, and paths that are brown and hard-packed in summer have grown high, lush and green. Hold still and a hummingbird may alight for a moment nearby; look down and be rewarded with the sight of delicate orange or purple flowers. The mountain waterfalls and creeks are running full and the scrub and sage are redolent.

These mountains are our local treasure, protected by Congress in 1978 with funds to acquire land and designation as a national recreation area. Early visionaries saw the Santa Monicas as the last local refuge for wildlife and people, a place where the land would prove more valuable undeveloped than subdivided into yet more "view properties."

Key to the early vision of the mountains will be completion of the Backbone Trail, a 70-mile-long hiking and wildlife corridor snaking along the mountain spines from the Pacific Palisades to Point Mugu in Ventura County. Last week the Clinton administration announced it will release the funds needed to complete the trail, $5.5 million to purchase up to 400 acres of private mountain terrain.

Once the purchases are completed, the entire length of the Backbone Trail could be open to the public within a year; presently, trekkers have access to 64 of its 70 miles. The trail, along with surrounding national and state parklands, already attracts 33 million visitors a year.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), whose district includes the trail, deserves credit for prying loose this last big chunk of funds. "This is a great day for the Santa Monica Mountains," Sherman said during a press conference on the trail. Indeed it is a great day. Not just for Sherman but also for the many other park supporters who kept up the pressure in Congress, lobbying for previous appropriations to build the trail and even chipping in with private funds. That list is long and illustrious; it includes former Rep. Anthony Beilenson, former Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, members of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, to name just a few.

Completion of the Backbone Trail will be a gift to us all.

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