College Helps Restore Burned Canyon
and horticulturist Tony Charness discuss replanting of the
PICO CANYON Its
not easy to restore Mother Nature, especially after a devastating wildfire
has done its worst. But each day, a handful of men give it their best
Make that a handful
of men, and their very determined Mission College supervisor.
Kathleen Bishop is LAMCs director of public safety. She is also
administrator of a two-year $378,000 grant awarded to Mission College
by the U.S. Department of Labor. The National Emergency Grant is designed
to help communities recover from wildfires.
Last year, when it seemed all of Southern California was ablaze, the Val
Verde fire threatened homes in Stevenson Ranch. Although those homes were
spared, the flames devastated neighboring wild areas, including Pico Canyon,
a popular recreational area.
"Everybody went to Pico Canyon for picnics and campouts,"
said Bishop, a longtime resident of the Santa Clarita area. "Its
a part of our history and of our family memories. We just had to restore
The fire left the rustic canyon nearly unrecognizable to its longtime
visitors. Blackened trees, denuded hillsides and a lack of plant life
and vegetation dominated the landscape following the October 2003 blaze.
That began to change
earlier this year when Bishop assembled a team that included Tony Charness,
a habitat restorationist with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy,
contractor Malloy Solberg, and 15 unemployed men referred by the Pacoima
"The grant has
two purposes," said Bishop. "One is to help restore the fire
area and the other is to provide jobs for the unemployed."
Crew members earn a little more than $13 an hour and work about 20 hours
per week. Their task to date has been to pull all the fuel grass in the
canyon, chop down blackened trees, clean out accumulated silt, and help
preserve whatever plants survived the blaze.
"Its a beautiful thing for us to come out here and restore
this canyon," said Timothy Wilkerson, a groundskeeper who has been
with the project since August. "It was pretty burned out when we
started and now everything is turning green."
Vik Mardirosian stands knee deep in hole where new tree is planted.
After pulling more
than 11-hundred cubic yards of debris from the canyon, the crew is entering
an exciting new stage: the actual revitalization of the canyon. Hundreds
of new trees are being planted, including species that were destroyed
in the fire and new species that Charness plans to introduce. Plants are
also going into the ground, many of them donated by individuals and merchants
who have heard of the project. Jeff Stevenson, member of the Santa Monica
Mountains Conservancy Board of Directors, donated seedling for 500 plants
"Its going to take years for the canyon to get back to where
it was before the fire," said Charness. "But in the interim,
it can still be great. We wouldnt have been able to do what weve
done so far without these folks from Mission College."
Besides the restoration that has taken place to date, the project has
yielded some pleasant surprises. In one case, the crew came upon an unfamiliar
plant which can best be described as resembling "fog" on the
ground. Charness is still trying to identify it.
In another case, the crew discovered two large stone markers, hidden in
grass and debris, which appeared at first to be gravestones. After cleaning
the stones and reading the inscriptions, the crew learned that the stones
were landmarks designating the site as historical. In 1876, the first
commercially successful oil well in the western U.S. gushed "black
gold" from a derrick constructed by Charles Alexander Mentry. The
markers indicated the site of the "Pico Number 4" derrick. (The
discovery drew hundreds of oil workers to the area and led to the founding
of Mentryville, which stands today as an historic town and serves as the
crews "base camp.")
Despite the unexpected finds, its all about restoring the canyon.
And everyone involved feels theyre doing something worthwhile, perhaps
no one more so than Bishop.
"In my eyes, the canyon looks more beautiful than its ever
been," she said.
More Photos from the Pico Canyon Restoration