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New Santa Monica Mountains visitor center to open in June

May 22, 2012|By Julie Sheer | Los Angeles Times staff writer
(Mountains Recreation and…)

The words "government efficiency" may seem like an oxymoron, but not in the case of the new Santa Monica Mountains interagency visitor center, set to open June 9 at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas. The new headquarters for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area will also house the various agencies, all in one place, that manage the sprawling mountain range. Now that's efficient.

Hikers, riders, campers and other outdoor lovers of the Santa Monica Mountains will have a bigger and better visitor center smack dab in the middle of the mountains and closer to some of the Santa Monicas' prime recreation spots.

Navigating the patchwork of land agencies that make up the Santa Monica Mountains has been a challenge for outdoor enthusiasts. The current headquarters for the recreation area, which is part of the National Park Service, is in Thousand Oaks — not exactly convenient to the area's best hiking. And then there's the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, which operates King Gillette Ranch, and various California state parks, which each have their own trails, campgrounds and visitor centers. Can't blame you for being confused.

But the new interagency visitor center just east of Malibu Creek State Park will be one-stop shopping. Rangers and volunteers from the park service, conservancy and state parks will be on hand to provide information and maps for dozens of trails in the Santa Monicas, stretching from Hollywood Hills to Point Mugu State Park.

The ranch housing the new visitor center was once home to razor baron King C. Gillette, and includes a 1928 colonial Spanish-style mansion designed by Wallace Neff. Subsequent owners included a movie director, Soka University and various church groups. The 588-acre site became public parkland in 2007, and today its meadows and grasslands are a haven for birders and photographers. The site is also where TV's"The Biggest Loser"is filmed.

The visitor center will be in the ranch's original horse stables, upgraded with some modern-day touches: its photovoltaic solar energy system will allow it to provide its own energy, making it the National Park Service's first "net zero" visitor center. It will be named for Anthony C. Beilenson, the congressman who introduced legislation to create the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

The current visitor center in Thousand Oaks will close in July, but Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy visitor centers in Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades and Franklin Canyon in Beverly Hills will remain open, as will the visitor centers at Topanga, Malibu Creek and Point Mugu state parks.

The new interagency center will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., with free two-hour parking adjacent to the center at 26876 Mulholland Highway in Calabasas. The phone number will be same as the current one: (805) 370-2301. There will be a grand opening event  10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9. The public can tour the facilities and take part in ranger-led activities.

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