After Destruction, Trail to be Revamped

Sabo sideswiped by a mountain biker, Jan. 11, 2011 | Photo courtesy Joe Barrett

(NOTE: This story originally appears at CD2 Emergency Info Blog ).

LOS ANGELES – In early January, two hikers took to Verdugo Mountain Park, a majestic crest that rises 2,000 feet above the Southern Californian landscape. This was not a normal hike and, on that day, the trails were like they’d never seen them before.

It was Jan. 11, and hikers Kristin Sabo and Joe Barrett – open space advocates, neighborhood leaders and north valley residents – traversed the trails a day after Sabo noticed extensive damage to one of the region’s most picturesque landscapes.

Officials now believe a crew of men used shovels and other gear to carve new trails for mountain bikes, altering the narrow, winding hiking paths and presenting challenges to hikers already forced to navigate the thin hillside.

“I was pretty shocked,” said Lake View Terrace resident Sabo, who first discovered the damage the evening of January 10. “I figured they’d been pretty busy.”

The day after she saw what are believed to be thousands of dollars worth of damage, Sabo and Barrett investigated the newly etched trails in daylight, this time bringing a camera to document the altered hillside.

“The scale of the damage that had been done to the area was astonishing,” said Barrett, head of the Sunland-Tujunga Alliance. “This guy had spent a lot of time building trails. I’ve never seen that amount of damage. It was like he built a world-class BMX track. It was unreal.”

The damage went on for at least a mile, Barrett said, and affected nearby fire roads, hikers, horse riders and the natural landscape, which affected the structural integrity of the hiking trails that are about three-feet wide.

As Sabo and Barrett investigated the damage, they soon saw what could have been one of the culprits. A man with a shovel shouted from a distance, “telling us how he was going to carve up the whole canyon,” Sabo said.

Soon, the suspected digger hopped on a mountain bike, streamed down the mountainside (itself an infraction as all mountain biking in Verdugo Mountain Park is illegal) and nearly knocked Sabo out of the way before disappearing down the windy path. They subsequently filed a series of complaints with the police and alerted city officials.

The suspect remains on the lam, though officials with the Department of Recreation and Parks and their public safety wing, the Office of Public Safety, quickly jumped on the case.

Now, city landscape crews are removing the illegally carved out bike ramps and trails. The affected trails will be filled in by hand and all work is set to be finished by Saturday.

The Office of Public Safety has not yet made any arrests regarding the vandalism, but has made several dozen arrests on other issues in the area, including public drunkenness, marijuana smoking and trespassing.

The Verdugo Mountains Park is a relatively new public sphere after the city of Los Angeles dedicated its 565 acres as open space two years ago. Since then, the region has evolved from private property to public land in which hikers of all stripes flock to the preserve.

However, the area has not been free of concern. After the incident on Jan. 10, officials cited 13 residents for trespassing and for possession of marijuana. The police have stepped up patrols and Councilmember Krekorian’s office have gotten involved, including helping Sabo and Barrett navigate the city’s byzantine structure toward a resolution.

“Immediately after hearing of the incident, my staff took action to resolve this situation,” Krekorian said at the time. “We are fortunate to live in a city of immense natural beauty that we are all free to enjoy responsibly. I would urge everyone who hikes, bikes or visits our parks to respect nature as you would your home.”

For Sabo and Barrett, the takeaway is not that mountain biking is bad, nor that there isn’t a place in the region for such activities. They simply want everyone – hikers and not – to abide.

“My message is obey the law,” she said. “To wantonly go into a natural area and carve it up for whatever you want is illegal and immoral. There are other, proper channels to get what you want.”

Leave a comment



     /  Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Next time carry a broom stick and shove it into the spokes.That will stop the rider..

  2. Chris Cortese

     /  Saturday, March 12, 2011

    It’s amazing the damage just two people can do. And in this case I am referring to Kristin Sabo and Joe Barrett. The “picturesque landscape” they are referring to was a strip of land that was cleared for fire control a couple of years ago that ends in a glass covered hillside where teenagers routinely hang out and drink. Ironically, I have yet to see such outdoor enthusiast like Kristin and Joe help to clean up some of that litter. I have, however, seen riders haul trash out and maintain the area. Riders started building in that area to challenge there ability and to STAY out of the way of hikers walking up the fire road. I have only heard positive and enthusiastic comments by people walking in the area about the trail. A trail that has been there for 2 years. The one positive thing I can bring away from their action is that it has motivated myself and others in the mountain bike community to stop be so passive about our rights to ride and work towards a future that sees more “legal” trails in the area.

  3. Outdoorsman1

     /  Saturday, March 12, 2011

    What a shameless group of scofflaws people like Chris are. The law for some, but not for you if it inconveniences you, eh?

    Tell you what – rather than illegally repurposing public land for your selfish interests, why don’t you do get off your crybaby asses and do what every other group needing a specialized area for their sports MUST do: get funding, find land, buy or lease it and create the facility you need. This is true for anyone wanting a dog park, a garden, a horse arena, whatever.

  4. Kristin Sabo

     /  Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Chris Cortese says: “Ironically, I have yet to see such outdoor enthusiast like Kristin and Joe help to clean up some of that litter.”

    Ironically, Mr. Cortese, I put in 908 hours of volunteer work in LA City parks last year, mainly trail and facility maintenance, garbage removal and graffiti removal.

    And oddly enough, I never saw you doing likewise during any of those 908 hours. Hm.

    Additionally, I can honestly say that the fact that I did and continue to do this volunteer work never made me feel I was entitled to build something illegal on public land or change any of the park land I was working on for my own personal use, either.

    And I’m pretty sure I was polite to other lawful park users, we exchanged smiles and conversation from time to time, and they usually had positive things to say about what I was doing at the time, too. Hm.

    Finally – for the record – the last time I was in Verdugo Mt Park specifically, I did a couple hours of graffiti removal.

    When I happened upon the trail construction in January, very recent excavation work had obviously been done, and it was clearly in progress at that time. It was so recent in fact, that some of it hadn’t been rained on at all.

    That work threatened to seriously undermine substantial sections of the fire road. The very road the City spent tens of thousands putting into serviceable shape a few years back when the park was dedicated by Wendy Gruel.

    By any chance, would you know the individual or individuals who are responsible for undermining the road? As a taxpayer, it would be nice to see those responsible cover the cost of the reconstruction instead of we taxpayers.

  5. Chris,
    I encourage you to seek “legal trails” for mountain biking. There are areas designated for such a purpose. At this particular location mountain biking is not permitted, nor is trail building.
    Thanks for your comments,
    Joe Barrett

  6. Chris Cortese

     /  Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Hmmm… I seemed to have ruffled the feathers of the three people who read this blog. Outdoors1 is right I do have to get off my “crybaby ass” and try to work with the system. I just tend to get upset when people want “shove broom sticks in my spokes”, and demonize and vilify a sport that has brought such a positive influence to my life. I would appreciate any advice you could offer me as to who to talk to or any actions I can take to in order to open up more riding opportunities in the area. Also, I do applaud the 908 hrs. of service you have done Kristin and anytime you or a group want to work on improvement in the area (i.e. cleaning up all that glass at the trail head) I will try and round as many of my cohorts as possible to help out.

  7. I tend to stand up for Chris’s comments. Unfortunately, especially in California the process of getting a trail approved can take a few years. You send the Forestry department your plans, and you will most likely be rejected or it will take a few years before construction can start. What are mountain bikers supposed to do in the mean time?

    I find it funny how Sabo acts as if the work done building a bike trail is so destructive of the landscape. B.S.. Some of these trails I have come across are impressive and well built/maintained. You may come across some inconsiderate bikers, but I have come across inconsiderate hikers and horsemen also. You have some people who think they own the mountains or do give a rip and trash it up.

    It is also better to have bikers on there own designated trails. It is dangerous to have these guys flying down a trail at high speed you are hiking up.

    Downhill mountain biking is becoming more popular and unfortunately there isn’t gonna be any money in the budgets to build trails just for them. If they build there own trails and upkeep them, big deal. Let them build there own trails and stay off hiking/horse trails. It is safer that way.

    You are not going to stop mountain biking from getting more popular. If they are building good sound trails for themselves, more power to them. The Forestry service needs to accomodate this growing industry. If they are willing to do the work themselves, the Forestry service should accomodate the process quickly. But there is too much B.S. in California to allow that to happen. Like, I said, you are looking at years to getting a trail just to the point where construction can begin. I guess they just need to be more discreet where they build their trails. I do not think it is some hurendous crime.

  8. Willy,
    The simple fact is that you cannot build trails “discreetly” or otherwise in these areas. It is against the law and it will be reported when they are discovered.

  9. Kristin Sabo

     /  Monday, March 14, 2011

    Willy: “I find it funny how Sabo acts as if the work done building a bike trail is so destructive of the landscape. B.S.”

    I was speaking from first hand knowledge about THIS illegal trail, which is clear from what I wrote. I have first-hand knowledge in this case, including some of the preliminary engineering assessment and estimated cost to repair.

    Thanks for playing.

  10. Kristin Sabo

     /  Monday, March 14, 2011


    I work in grants and contracts, so let me make a suggestion:

    Right now is the absolute best time in decades for land acquisition. Look at available parcels in areas you ride or are popular. As an example only, there is an 80? acre parcel near the location of this particular mess that an investor bought before the economy changed. Thinking he may want to get out of that investment now.

    Work with a non-profit to put together a Prop K funding proposal to create what you want. I personally don’t suggest CORBA however, as their questionable administrative history with Mandeville Cyn will come up in the Prop K vetting round (Due diligence says it SHOULD come up, too.)

    Prop K is a two-year funding cycle. You’ll probably need a year of planning, budgeting, fundraising, grant-writing, and shmoozing near the end to get ready for the Prop K process.

    This is what these projects take, but if you start now and keep feeding them into the pipeline, you can have multiples of what you want. The first one is always the most difficult.

  11. I can understand if an area is designated for no biking. We have the whole Angeles National Forest that can be utilized for activities for hikers, bikers, horses, etc. The main problem is the beauracratic B.S. in trying to get anything done here. It is very easy for us hikers to “hold to the law”. Our trails are already here and established. Most of the trails built were built decades ago, before anybody thought of biking down mountains. With a fast growing sport as these extreme sports are, the government moves way to slow to accomodate the need. Have you ever tried to get permits to get a new trail built? These guys are not gonna wait years for one trail to get permitted. That is unreasonable when they see there is a need. There forestry service should be willing allow them to build their trails in designated areas with the forestry service needing only to oversee the process. These guys will build the trail free of charge as we already see.

    I’ve come across a few pretty good trails built by bikers. They do a good job. I definitely do not see how it is “destructive”. Those who claim this call it that because they personally do not want to see it.

    There is a very large safety concern to have hikers and horses on the same trails as mtn bikers, especially the downhill type who go 30+ mph.

    I say, if they organize themselves, petition for trails, that they themselves are willing to build, the Forestry could have this done in a couple of months to permit if they wanted to. But until the process speeds up, they will build and I support them in getting off hiking trail because of the safety risks. We live in a changing world and sometimes the government is to slow to adapt.

    I do say though, that all should be courteous when on the trails, whatever you are on, with out the attitude of thinking “you own the trail.”

  12. Kristin Sabo

     /  Monday, March 14, 2011

    “I’ve come across a few pretty good trails built by bikers. They do a good job.”

    Not all of them do.

    ” I definitely do not see how it is “destructive”. Those who claim this call it that because they personally do not want to see it.”

    Thinking that if the trail is illegal, then that is likely the main objection for most.

    After all, law is what keeps civilized society civilized.

    When one assumes objections are personal and selfish, then one is already setting themselves up for conflict with respect to the issue in question.

    As for trail permits in the National Forest, yup – they’re very hard to get. No question about that.

  13. I agree that not all would do a good job. I am not familiar with this particular trail. They should at least gain knowledge in how to build good sustainable trails.

    Law does keep civilization, but our system is not responding quick enough to changes. I personally cannot blame them for building trails. These types of infractions though are hardly something to be called “criminal”. Digging jumps up in the mountains, come on. We live in an area surrounded by mountains, and you probably cannot get anything built in them them now because of the financial state of affairs. Kristin’s suggestion of organizing a group and buying a parcel of land is a nice idea but unlikely to happen. There are too many issues overtime for something like that to happen. Whose going to pay the property taxes every year, what if issues arise regarding the land, how is that going to be addressed and paid for, and on and on, and then you lose it on a technicality or get sued.

    The Forestry Service needs to change and adapt. We have plenty of wilderness area for trails for everyone.

  14. Terri Sweet

     /  Friday, May 4, 2012

    This is typical. Mountain bikes should not be allowed in natural areas.

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