31 March 2022

California's Gold: Santa Monica Mountains

Written by: Amado Castillo

Welcome back, avid MANO blog readers; it’s great to see you! Unfortunately, the Omicron variant and the holiday season left me little to write about during the past four months. Thankfully, March has been fantastic as we have met with more project partners! As a result, I anticipate having much to write about, so stay tuned!

The first of these adventures was in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, where we are currently working on a project with TreePeople Land Trust. I was fortunate enough to visit the Santa Monica Mountains once prior with my supervisor Carlos and Kate, though we did not get a chance to see the actual property. We questioned our project partners’ insistence that there should be a trail placed on the property, as the road is still closed due to the 2018 Woolsey Fire, and there are already multiple trail offerings in the region. This trip put all of these questions to rest. 

Unbeknownst to us, the property is incredibly historic and will one day make an essential part of California history accessible to the public; the trail was once part of the Wagon Trail used by settlers to access the old Port of Los Angeles. As we walked down the hidden path, we saw giant spools and other remnants of those who traversed the route a hundred years ago. It was incredible to walk through such an undisturbed yet, at one time, heavily used trail. Unfortunately, since the path is seldomly used and inaccessible, we ran into a rattlesnake while visiting. Though the snake wasn’t overtly aggressive, it reminded us of the dangers of hiking on unsanctioned trails. 

The National Park Service released a press release about Ballard Mountain in Santa Monica Mountains a week before our trip. John Ballard and his daughter Alice were highly successful homesteaders and businesspeople who owned over 300 acres in the Santa Monica mountains. Formerly named after a racial slur, historians from Moorpark College met with the family of the former homesteaders. They worked with the National Park Service and County officials to change the name in memory of their successful ancestors. 

I knew that Ballard Mountain was close to our project site, but our guide from TreePeople let us know that the trail would go through Ballard’s former property. It’s incredible that I get to play a small part in ensuring that TreePeople and the National Park Service will protect this essential part of California history and make it accessible to the larger public.

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Agency: National Park Service

Program: Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program (COR)

Location: Rivers, Trails Conservation Assistance Program - Southern California Field Office

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