Mentryville is Taking its Time to Heal
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 9-25-2005.
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Made it to California and back and Hurricane Ophelia stayed out of Virginia during my trip "out West." Better still, I took a trip to the Santa Clarita Valley and it didn't rain my whole time in Southern California.
Norfolk to Las Vegas to Burbank. Each time I make the trip, the flight path takes me over the SCV. It looks so small from the air. The hills, mountains and canyons that I hiked don't seem so large from 10,000 feet up.
Each passing year the SCV has less open space. Homes, schools and industry are filling the valley floor and pressing into the many canyons.
Thanks to the foresight of a few folks in the SCV, not all of the canyons will be filled and hills flattened for homes. There are many open spaces left, and now those spaces will remain a "green belt" around the valley. (OK "brown belt" in the summer.) Those spaces are open to the public as parks with miles of trails and more than a few historical items of interest.
It would be great if more folks of the SCV would get off of the freeways and spend just a few hours in those parks.
Of course I made a pilgrimage to Pico Canyon and Mentryville while in Southern California. That is required of me, each visit. I saw many good things happening there. The mud has been removed from around the Big House. Hundreds of trees are being planted. The road to the parking lot has been restored, too. If you don't mind a little walking, you can visit Mentryville. The road isn't open to private vehicular traffic yet, but there is hope.
Much more is needed. Funds aren't yet available to restore the interior of the Big House. Sadly, the best use it has right now is as a movie set. It has been used in movies since Tom Mix was making them. It is making some money for the park while just sitting there.
In Mentryville I met a couple who were visiting well, not really; she was part of the effort to restore the canyon from San Fernando Mission College. She was showing her husband the place. I had the wonderful opportunity to give a guided tour. It was a real memory test for me.
We walked up the canyon as far as the bakery foundation at Minnie-Lotta Canyon. She explained that each morning as she headed to work on the clean-up project, she and her fellow workers must walk from the county road (Pico Canyon Road). She said the sounds of the early morning were a little scary.
There's good reason. On our short walk I saw tracks of bobcat, mountain lion, coyote and snakes. Lots of snakes. Nature has returned to the old oil boom town. The Tataviam Indians may recognize most of it today, for I imagine it looks about the same as it did when they populated the valley.
On my next trip I'll have to walk the entire canyon or, better yet, ride a horse. I may not be able to do that if the road isn't repaired. Well, I could ride or walk the entire canyon, but the park rangers might not like me using the old trails I know.
I guess the horses of today can be ridden only on manmade roads and trails. I'm glad the early explorers and pioneers didn't wait on a road to be built for horse travel.
Thanks to the current state of our legal system and, in many cases, folks lacking common sense, the canyon is closed for any visiting west of the picnic grounds (Johnson Park). It's too dangerous for folks to go there. The last thing the park needs is a lawsuit because someone was dumb enough to not see there isn't a passable road.
It's the same with the road between the county road and the Mentryville gate. It still needs repairs lots of repairs. One wrong move and a vehicle could drop 15 feet into the creek bottom. Fifteen feet straight down. There aren't any fences or guard rails. What was there, washed away last winter.
But access to Mentryville and Pico Canyon will return as it was. There is much more work to be done. FEMA is sending some funds, and along with county grants, much has been and will be accomplished. It is just taking lots of time.
Maybe that isn't all bad. After the fires and floods, Mentryville and Pico Canyon needed time to heal. It hasn't had a vacation from people in many, many years. I'll bet the wildlife is loving it. Once access is fully restored, the first folks to venture deep into the canyon will be in for sights few have seen. And those sights will be nature reclaiming the puny and insignificant efforts of man.
All this was possible because of just a few folks who couldn't see the future without open space. It is so close to every resident of the SCV. All you have to do is go there. I made it from Virginia; I'm sure it isn't that far from Valencia, Saugus or even Castaic.
Try it. You'll like it.
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.