Connecting People and Animals to Nature by Expanding the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

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(Ranger Leading Hike | Photo Credit: National Park Service)

With over half a million visitors a year, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is one of the region and nation's treasured assets. Yet outside the current boundaries, habitat for species ranging from mountain lions to the coastal California gnatcatcher is threatened by fragmentation and the loss of habitat connections. And many nearby communities--especially communities of color and low-income communities--lack access to opportunities to experience the outdoors.

But there's an idea in the works that would help address these limitations. The National Park Service (NPS) recently released its Rim of the Valley study setting forth several alternatives for expanding the existing recreation area around the nearby San Fernando Valley. One alternative--Alternative D--stands out.

Why? Simply put, Alternative D would do the most to provide access to nature that many urban communities are lacking, while also providing critical habitat connections for wildlife. It would add 313,000 acres (slightly less than half the size of Rhode Island) to the existing 153,250 acres. This addition would help connect large natural areas, promote long-term resiliency of the significant natural resources, protect important cultural sites, and provide more access and recreational opportunities. In addition, NPS would engage in cooperative conservation partnerships and provide technical assistance outside the expanded area to facilitate habitat connectivity between the area and the nearby Los Padres and Angeles national forests.

As NPS notes, expanding the boundary into urban areas to the north and east "would provide new close-to-home opportunities for those communities that currently do not have adequate parks and recreation areas." The expanded area would extend into downtown Los Angeles along the river and encompass the entire Rim of the Valley Trail (shown in red on the map above), which will circle the San Fernando Valley when complete. Imagine being able to start downtown and hike continuously all the way around the trail--along the Los Angeles River, through Griffith Park, Santa Monica Mountains, Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains, Angeles National Forest, and along the Arroyo Seco back to downtown again. If Alternative D moves forward, that vision could become a reality.

NPS acknowledges that Alternative D is the "environmentally preferable alternative." Yet it stopped short of recommending this option. So it's up to you and me to make sure everyone gets the message. Let them know Alternative D is what you want.