Revitalizing Mentryville
• After the devastating fires of 2003, crews are working hard to plant trees and clean up the debris so the public can once again enjoy the area.

By Adriana Hemans
Signal Staff Writer

Friday, November 19, 2004

ust past the newly developed houses on Pico Canyon Road lies a 128-year-old historic village that hasn't been visited much lately.
    Mentryville, located in Pico Canyon, narrowly escaped being devoured by the Simi Valley fire in October 2003. Today it is no longer the fires keeping people away, but debris that has collected from the charred remains of vegetation.
    Workers began planting trees Thursday as part of a project that will revitalize the historic site and make the area more welcoming for visitors.
    Mentryville, a town that grew up around the oil fields, once boasted more than 200 residents. Today only handful of structures remain.
    The barn, the old one-room schoolhouse and the home of town founder Alexander Mentry narrowly escaped last year's fire.
    In late October 2003, firefighters stood on the roof of Mentry's former home, fighting off the flames that threatened the village.
    Today a massive revegetation and reconstruction project is under way to bring the charred and mangled canyon back to its former green state. Lennar Corp. has donated "thousands" of trees to the project, said consultant Jeff Stevenson, who arranged the donation.
    Stevenson said he walked through the canyon collecting acorns that would grow into the kinds of trees native to Pico Canyon. The trees were grown in Lennar's nursery, just a few miles from the project site.
    Live oaks, scrub oaks and valley oaks will be planted by the dozen along the creek bed.
    Anthony Charness does habitat restoration for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, the public agency that operates Mentryville as a park. He is overseeing the restoration.
    Native trees such as the oaks will be more likely to thrive in the canyon than would exotic imports, he said.
    There have been fairly few visitors to Mentryville since the fires of last year because the debris has blocked paths and made it difficult for the public to move around. Charness oversees a crew of 12 who have been clearing out the canyon for the past three months.
    According to Charness, more than 700 cubic yards of debris have been removed from the area.
    "This place is going to look nice," said Jose Zamora, who helped plant the trees. "Once we got out the dead stuff and the trash, it's looking really nice."
    Crews will be heading to the adjoining Towsley Canyon after the revitalization of Pico Canyon is finished. The work is expected to continue through December 2005.
    The project is funded by a federal emergency grant administered through Los Angeles Mission College, located in Sylmar.
    Officials said the grant covered the cost of the labor, but until Stevenson stepped in, it was unclear how they would pay for the vegetation they hoped to plant.
    "The level of revitalization possible now is more than we had ever imagined for this place," Charness said.
    Plans are also under way to reconstruct a bridge that lies farther down Pico Canyon to make the area more visitor-friendly.
    Workers will continue to clear out the 5 1/2-mile road that winds through the canyon, leading the way to other historic sites. About a mile up the road from the Mentryville village is the site of the first commercially successful oil well in California.
    Known as "Pico Number 4," it was drilled to a productive depth in 1876 by Alex Mentry, for whom the oil village would be named. After Mentry's death in 1900, the operation was consolidated with other small oil companies into the Standard Oil Co. of California. In 1977 Standard renamed its domestic arm "Chevron USA," which donated Mentryville to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy following the 1994 earthquake.

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