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Connecting with the Nature in Our Backyard

By Bryan Slade

I grew up in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. Monrovia Canyon Park piqued my interest in nature; the San Gabriel Mountains instilled my passion for the Great Outdoors. Today, my aspiration is to protect our local parks and national public lands, and I invite everyone to join me.

I was in elementary school when I first visited Monrovia Canyon Park in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. If you haven’t yet visited, you should! This city-managed park is a real gem, offering visitors 80 acres of open space to explore, including hiking trails, picnic areas and an easy walk to a beautiful perennial waterfall. The park is a poignant introduction to the beauty of nature outside our urban neighborhoods.

As I grew up and became more adventurous I realized the “hills” behind my house – the San Gabriel Mountains – offered even greater outdoor experiences: gorgeous hikes, bigger waterfalls, rivers, and wildlife. I learned that these national forestlands also provide clean drinking water for Monrovia and other towns in the San Gabriel Valley, as well as that rare commodity in the L.A. basin: clean air.

After graduation I joined the California Conservation Corps (CCC). Here we worked to protect natural resources in the San Gabriel Mountains and all over Southern California’s parks and forestlands by planting trees, removing invasive weeds and conducting other “beautification” activities.

A CCC trip to the San Jacinto State Park is especially memorable. The young people on the trip were all from urban communities in the Los Angeles area, and for most it was an entirely new environment. “Who planted all these trees?” someone asked, gazing upward at the rich conifer forest.

Hearing questions like that lead me full circle. I eventually gained employment with Monrovia Canyon Park as a Park Ranger; leading hikes and public education activities, as I was providing young people with their own eye-opening experiences in nature. Here, students learned about life cycles and enjoyed breathtaking encounters with Black Bears. Connecting youth and families to our Great Outdoors causes experiences that can never be forgotten and are often inspiring. As a mentor of mine often says, “nature is transformative”.

I have recently begun a new job with Amigos de Los Rios, an organization dedicated to educating and connecting local residents with the Emerald Necklace -sustainable open spaces along urban river corridors that connect the mountains to the sea. I’ll be hosting weekend volunteer tree-plantings and weed-clearings to beautify neighborhood parks, protect the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo rivers, and provide open space for families to enjoy.

The San Gabriel Mountains are so important to our lives as Southern California’s residents. They complete the Emerald Necklace of green space that encircles the San Gabriel Valley. They offer access to healthy recreation and outdoor learning opportunities. They provide us with the opportunity to reconnect with our families and friends. We can see where our drinking water comes from – and be mindful about protecting it.

The San Gabriel Mountains are monumental to me and I am certain that anyone who has absorbed their beauty shares my sentiment. Designation of the national public lands of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument will bring new access and new resources to enable young people and families to connect with the nature in our backyard, and each other. Not every tree needs to be planted by hand; nature is native. Please join me in helping to protect it.

Bryan Slade is an outreach coordinator with local nonprofit, Amigos de Los Rios. He was born and raised in Monrovia.

September 18, 2014

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