By Elise Kleeman Staff Writer
ALTADENA - It has been decades since hikers and equestrians have been able to hike all the way across the northern edge of Altadena, but the first steps are under way to unite the fractured mountain trail.
This month, Los Angeles County proposed a new plan for the Altadena Crest Trail that would more than double its length and create a continuous route from Eaton Canyon Natural Park on the east to Hahamongna Watershed Park on the west.
Many community members support the proposal, but the trail has controversial elements as well. In the initial incarnation, the path crosses through private properties, includes the addition of new bathrooms and a parking lot, and would open access to a long-disputed part of Altadena.
Over the past two weeks, some residents have stated their displeasure about the plan at the four public meetings the county and its contractor, Sapphos Environmental Inc., called to collect public comment.
But "based on the general tone of the scoping meetings, I'm hopeful" for the trail's success, said Jan Takata of Los Angeles County's Chief Administrative Office, which is overseeing the trail-proposal process.
The provisional additions to the Crest Trail are divided into four parts that span the holes in the path, known as the Rubio Canyon, Skylane, La Vina and Millard Canyon gaps.
Of these, the Rubio Canyon gap is the least debated because it only crosses the property of Sameer Etman, a trail advocate and Altadena Crest Trail Restoration Working Group chair, as well as a portion of the Angeles National Forest.
"Anything that's in the forest that's been proposed, we'll definitely support and work with the county to get on through," said Marty Dumpis, district ranger for the Los Angeles River Ranger District. "I think it would be a wonderful trail system for all the people in the county."
Farther west, the Skylane Gap trail crosses the largest number of private properties, but those working on the project are hopeful that compromises can be reached with owners to allow the necessary easements.
By far the most contentious segments are the La Vina and Millard Canyon gaps, which border the gated community of La Vina and wander through lush Millard Canyon.
Once a trade route for Native Americans, lower Millard Canyon falls on land owned by the La Vina Homeowner's Association, a collection of 272 property owners, many of whom are staunchly against hikers in the canyon behind the development.
"Here you've got a pristine, untouched area, that for the lack of a better word is wilderness, that would be absolutely destroyed," said La Vina resident Dick Whitehouse.
Along with many other La Vina residents, Whitehouse feels it is his responsibility as a landowner to preserve the lush riverbank habitat by blocking trail access through the canyon.
In 2005, three lawsuits were filed against the La Vina Homeowner's Association to force it to open the canyon to the public as La Vina's developer had promised would be done. The cases are scheduled to go to court in April.
"I'm hopeful that litigation will not forestall the development of the trail plan," Takata said.
Other area residents also have expressed concerns about protecting the canyon, as well as about the safety of the trail's intersection with narrow, winding Canyon Crest Road.
They have called for the Crest Trail to follow the existing paths that make a larger loop around the Meadows area of northeast Altadena.
The county is still accepting public comments and suggestions that will be included in the Environmental Impact Report and has extended the comment period until the end of October.
There also will be several other opportunities for public comment before the county Board of Supervisors makes its final decision about the Crest Trail, expected to occur by the end of 2007.
"It's a good plan - it's a plan that's going to enhance this community," said trail advocate Paul Ayers, who is also one of the attorneys who filed suit against the La Vina Homeowner's Association. "I would be inordinately surprised if within 10 years, that trail isn't intact, including the La Vina part."
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