Wednesday, February 06, 2002 - Pasadena Star News
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Ray Dashner of Pasadena rakes leaf litter on the top of the canyon along Arroyo Boulevard. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)
Unmasking a jewel
Group of volunteer landscapers removes debris from Arroyo
By Mary Schubert
Staff Writer

PASADENA -- Anyone who's ever watched a City Council meeting knows Ray Dashner and Roy Begley as audience fixtures who make it their business to chastise politicians.

In recent years, the pair have found an outlet that keeps them outside rather than in City Hall.

Dashner, Begley and fellow volunteers Barbara Dahn and Gary Cowles have been weeding, pruning and clearing away overgrowth and dead foliage on several stretches of Arroyo Boulevard. In the process, they've found old footpaths and staircases buried underneath decades of dirt, fallen leaves and tangled vegetation.

"Who would know it's here unless someone unveiled it?" said Dashner, 66, pointing out a walking trail bordered by smooth river rock. "It's all forgotten."

Arroyo Boulevard is a favorite of joggers and cyclists. Houses line the east side of the street, and the Arroyo Seco slopes downhill on the west side.

Dashner, who lives on the street, has made it his mission to yank out slender green vines that wrap themselves around trees that line the east bank of the Arroyo Seco.

"You can't allow oak trees that you love and care about to have vines smother their leaves," he said.

His group spent four months near Bradford Street, unearthing a curving path and staircase that leads down into the Arroyo Seco. Lately, their efforts have focused just north of the San Rafael Avenue Bridge.

The amateur landscapers also have worked in South Pasadena, on Arroyo Drive near Hermosa Street. That's the former site of the Cathedral Oak, a city cultural landmark designating the spot where Spanish explorers and missionary Juan Crespi celebrated Easter Mass in 1770.

Dashner and his pals have cleared out bins of tree branches and other natural debris, with both cities' knowledge and sometimes their help. "We filled up nine Dumpsters," he said of the Cathedral Oak project.

The city of Pasadena gave the group some gardening tools, Dashner said, pointing out the equipment he carries in the back of his jeep. City crews brought mulching machines to turn some of the cleared vegetation into ground cover.

Most of the Arroyo Seco is owned by the city of Pasadena; the lower portion belongs to the city of South Pasadena.

Dashner, a Pasadena resident since 1972, said he's never heard any complaints about what the self-titled Arroyo Brigade has been doing on publicly-held land.

"No permission was ever granted. I simply did it," Dashner said. "If people neglected this property so long, why would they care about me pulling down vines? I've never disturbed any animal habitats."

Their work wins kudos from the Arroyo Seco Foundation, a Pasadena preservation group that posts Brigade activities on its Web site. The City Council came to a ribbon cutting held for the Bradford project.

In the early 1900s, beer mogul Adolphus Busch bought land along the arroyo, developing 60 acres as Busch Gardens -- which became a popular tourist attraction.

The Busch property stretched along Arroyo Boulevard from Bellefontaine Street to Madeline Drive, Dashner said.

He believes many of the stone steps built into the arroyo hillside, the rock-lined trails with zig-zagging switchbacks and even a makeshift aqueduct to channel mountain runoff down the sloping banks are all remnants of Busch Gardens.

-- Mary Schubert can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4456, or by e-mail at