College crew helps restore burned canyon
and horticulturist Tony Charness discuss replanting
of the canyon.
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 shot.
a handful of men, and their very determined Mission
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
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
"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 it."
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.
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 WorkSource office.
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.
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 and trees.
"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
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
BY EDUARDO PARDO