I showed up with about a dozen Latino youth from our Church group, but by the time we arrived the venue was already at full capacity. As we waited outside, we held a large banner that displayed several photos of the youth in the mountains and the words, “We Love San Gabriel Mountains.”
The banner caught the eye of a man in the crowd. He approached asking antagonistically, “In all honesty, when was the last time YOU were in the mountains?”
You can imagine his surprise when I pointed to the photos on the banner and told him that less than a month ago we had a group of 130 Latino youth spend a day hiking up in the San Gabriels. Our volunteers have also helped to clean up the area.
He pushed back, asking why I would want the government to oversee these mountains. It became apparent then that this gentleman 1) didn’t realize the government already oversees our national forests, including the San Gabriel Mountains, and 2) hadn’t been up in the mountains himself lately. Otherwise, he’d know the answer.
The San Gabriel Mountains have been abused. Increased recreational use coupled with insufficient resources to manage these public lands has put this vast natural resource – Los Angeles County’s backyard – at risk. For example, the mountains are riddled with trash and graffiti, which negatively affects the quality of our drinking water, and fishing.
The jewel of Los Angeles is tarnished. In our park-poor county – we have less green space than New York City – we can’t afford for the sake of our youth to mistreat our lands any longer. It is our moral responsibility to do better.
Designation of the public lands in the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument could permanently protect watersheds and water quality, conserve fish and wildlife, enhance air quality and provide opportunities for healthy outdoor recreation. It could also lead to more facilities, restrooms, visitor services and staffing, including multilingual rangers.
As the Youth Sectional Leader for the San Gabriel Valley, Assembly of God Churches – the largest denomination in the area and engages youth from Pasadena to Fontana – I know our community’s children and teenagers would benefit greatly if the San Gabriel Mountains became a national monument. Not only would our churches be inclined to hold our camps and activities with youth in the San Gabriels as opposed to traveling out of the area, but it would also provide a better opportunity for our youth to connect with the outdoors.
For many of the 130 youth we took up to the San Gabriels, the beauty of this God-given natural treasure that’s only a stone’s throw from where they live amazed them. As they left, they understood why there is a need for preservation and greater protections. Most importantly, they want to do something about it.
Perhaps if those opposed to protecting our public lands took a minute to actually visit the San Gabriel Mountains, they too would understand why it’s necessary.
By Pastor Ricky Lopez of Por La Creacion Faith- Based Alliance. Lopez is Youth Sectional Leader San Gabriel Valley, Assembly of God Churches, Los Angeles.