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'Secret Valley' Area Called Vital Link to Fragile Trail System

Nature: Land recently purchased by trust connects recreational paths in Santa Monica Mountains that are also crucial to local wildlife.

July 20, 2002|WENDY THERMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By day, hikers raise clouds of dust as their boots dig into the trail. Equestrians clop past towering rock formations. Sweaty mountain bikers bounce over ruts and boulders for a thrill ride.

By night, the Calabasas / Cold Creek Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains is a different world as wildlife emerges. Mountain lions tread stealthily in search of dinner. Grey foxes and coyotes skitter through brush, while owls wheel silently overhead. Deer wander in search of places to bed down.

"This isn't only for humans," Jo Kitz of the Mountains Restoration Trust said Friday during a four-wheel-drive tour of the trail for a dozen state and local officials. "This functions as a wildlife corridor and habitat."

The nonprofit trust, which purchases land to preserve as open space, arranged the tour in an effort to drive home the importance of nature trails.

Steve Harris, executive director of the trust, called the trail system a fragile thread holding together a patchwork quilt of publicly owned parklands in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Trails used by humans are crucial for wildlife migration, and without paths between widely scattered open spaces, the animals would disappear, he said.

"A lot of people like to see the deer, but it's much more than that," he said. "A single mountain lion, for example, needs a lot of territory to hunt. If you lose these open spaces and trails, you lose the mountain lion, and what you have is a large influx of rodents in populated areas."

The trust used the occasion to dedicate Secret Valley, which the Calabasas / Cold Creek Trail leads into. The recently purchased property is described as a vital link in the trail system. The 40-acre parcel is south of Calabasas and just east of Mulholland Highway.

Trust officials said Secret Valley is a strategic part of the 200-mile trail system planned for the Santa Monica Mountains because it connects to 10 existing trails, including the 65-mile Backbone Trail, and eight parks.

Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, said places such as Secret Valley and the Calabasas / Cold Creek Trail "are worth protecting with everything we've got."

"This is our cathedral," he said during a stop on a trail overlook. "We didn't take donations to make it. We didn't use slave labor to make it. It was made for us. These mountains are as beautiful as just about anything in California."

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) agreed. The trail system in the Santa Monicas makes it possible for millions of Los Angeles-area residents to "visit nature without having to go, as Joni Mitchell put it, to a tree museum," she said, referring to a line from the 1970 protest song "Big Yellow Taxi."

The 17-mile Calabasas / Cold Creek Trail and Secret Valley are in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Unlike many parks, about half of the 150,000-acre recreation area--which stretches from Point Mugu in Ventura County to the Hollywood Freeway--consists of housing developments and other privately owned land. Groups such as the mountains trust and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy are attempting to buy undeveloped parcels and convert them to parkland.

The Calabasas / Cold Creek Trail has a marked access point just south of Mountain Park Drive on Mulholland Highway, and an unmarked entry gate on the north side of Stunt Road at mile-post marker 1.00.

Kitz, who has been leading nature walks for 30 years, said trails and open space are often underappreciated by most Americans. "I really believe that the health of our country depends on the health of our wild lands."

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