From Backyards to Monumental Heights: The San Gabriel Mountains’ Importance to LA Community

Home » News & Media » From Backyards to Monumental Heights: The San Gabriel Mountains’ Importance to LA Community

From Backyards to Monumental Heights: The San Gabriel Mountains’ Importance to LA Community

Date: 04/24/2024     Category: News & Media     Author: The San Fernando Valley Sun     Publication: Semantha Raquel Norris    

Original Post ➡️

Trail in Lakeview Terrace. (SFVS Staff)

For many Angelenos, the San Gabriel Mountains define the Los Angeles landscape. Stretching from the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley, these glorious peaks are the northeastern backdrop to the valleys below. 

The Angeles National Forest is one of the most frequented recreational outdoor spaces for Angelenos, with 4.6 million visitors annually – more than Yosemite National Park.

Northeast San Fernando Valley residents have long depended on the neighboring mountains – escaping to them to cool down during the extreme heat in the summer and enjoying wildflower blooms on spring hikes.

The large equestrian community has long taken full advantage of the hills surrounding Sylmar. Walking in the hills behind El Cariso Park, Kagel Canyon and Little Tujunga, it is common to see entire families out, with strollers and all, enjoying the natural world just outside their doorsteps.
The San Gabriel Mountains are an escape from the bustling metropolis, providing a much-needed environmental refuge for many urban and culturally diverse communities that have limited access to green spaces in their neighborhoods. 

A 20-Year Campaign 

“These mountains are a sanctuary for a lot of Angelenos,” said Margarita Lopez-Pelayo, advocacy and organizing manager for the environmental non-profit Nature for All.
“We want to make sure that the San Gabriel Mountains are preserved for generations to come.”

The Nature for All coalition, composed of local and national nonprofits, “works to protect the public lands and green open spaces” and “create opportunities for Angelenos to connect and care for nature.”

San Gabriel Mountains Forever is a Nature for All initiative formed in 2008 that campaigns for federal protection over the San Gabriel Mountains. 

An aerial view of the San Gabriel Mountains from an EcoFlight tour of the terrain, April 17. (SFVS/el Sol Photo/Semantha Raquel Norris)

In 2014, President Barack Obama designated approximately 346,177 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument using the 1906 Antiquities Act.

San Gabriel Mountains Forever is now urging President Joe Biden to expand the San Gabriel National Monument by 109,000 acres using the same act, something he is speculated to soon declare. 

“The San Gabriel Mountains represent the only access to green space for millions of low-income families in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. That’s why I’ve authored legislation to protect these public lands and promote environmental justice in our communities,” said Padilla in a statement. 

Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Judy Chu championed legislation for expansion and have urged Biden to use his executive authority to bypass congressional gridlock.

“I’m also continuing to urge President Biden to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to permanently protect the San Gabriel Mountains and all of their natural wonders,” Padilla added.

Map of proposed National Monument Expansion area. (Image courtesy of San Gabriel Mountains Forever)

The San Fernando Valley borders a large portion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument proposed expansion area, considered the gateway to the Angeles National Forest.

“It was really important that the valley is behind the support, and that our voices don’t get left out,” said Lopez-Pelayo, who has been organizing in the valley for over 20 years. 

Many San Fernando Valley-based organizations such as Pueblo y Salud, Tia Chuchas and Somos Familia Valle, support the campaign, alongside elected officials – including Padilla, Assemblywoman Luz Rivas, State Sen. Caroline Menjivar, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez and the City of San Fernando.

“The Northeast Valley is currently underserved by parks and green spaces. This expansion is a critical step towards environmental justice and access to green space in communities that really need it,” said Rivas.

Equity of access is important. As part of their Outdoor Equity Program, Nature for All takes San Fernando Valley residents on excursions so that they can experience the natural beauty with their own eyes.
In celebration of Earth Day, they ushered 35 youths from Bert Corona Charter High School in Pacoima to visit Eaton Canyon. 
Lopez-Pelayo said the hikes bring people peace and make them feel good physically. She added that many migrant communities say they are comforted by the landscape, which reminds them of their homelands. 

A Birds Eye View

Like many Angelenos, I grew up with the mountains being a natural refuge. I swam at the Eaton Canyon waterfall during the heat of the summer, sled down snow-capped Mount Baldy in the winter and camped in the forests of Chilao. I’ve parked along the Angeles Crest Highway to watch a meteor shower and gazed over the city from the top of the Echo Mountain trail. 

Last week I gained a new appreciation for the mountains, getting to see them from a bird’s eye view. 

(SFVS/el Sol Photo/Semantha Raquel Norris)
Views from an EcoFlight tour of the San Gabriel Mountains, April 17. (SFVS/el Sol Photo/Semantha Raquel Norris)

Flying over the tops of the mountain, I was overwhelmed with a sense of just how expansive and breathtaking the natural landscape is. Curving trails and roads became small snakes cutting through the green mountains that jut out from the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. 

From above, I could see where our communities lie within the entire ecosystem – from the mountains to the oceans. I got a sense of just how interconnected everything is and just how important it is to preserve this natural landscape.

Not only is The Angeles National Forest an ecological haven – hosting a diversity of wildlife including black bears, mountain lions, coyotes and bighorn sheep – but it is also an essential watershed, accounting for one-third of LA County’s drinking water. 

San Gabriel Mountains Forever aims to to protect the critical wildlife habitat of the mountains, preserve a key source of drinking water for LA, honor the cultural and historical significance of the landscape and ensure equitable access to the outdoors. 

In partnership with EcoFlight, they are taking to the sky – flying people, in six-seater airplanes, low over the mountains to provide a new perspective, and hopefully a new appreciation, for the terrain’s natural beauty. 

“It really makes a world of difference to see it from above,” said Lopez-Pelayo. 

“When you see the mountains from above you, you really get humbled. You really realize, ‘Wow! This is massive. This is beautiful.’ And it really makes sense why we need to protect the mountains.”

Protecting Cultural Heritage

In addition to the ecological diversity, the San Gabriel Mountains include a rich and diverse cultural heritage. 

“Expanding the monument is also an opportunity to conserve the cultural lands of the tribal nations,” said Rivas.

The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians of the San Fernando Valley and the Gabrieleño (Tongva) San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, the original stewards of the land, support expanding the national monument designation.  

The proposed expansion area encompasses prehistoric archeological sites and historic sites and landscapes. There are about 600 archaeological sites within the monument, including two Native American rock art sites. 

Visitors are encouraged to respect the land, water, wildlife and Native communities when visiting the mountains. 

We all deserve a beautiful experience, so remember, if you can pack it in, you can pack it out. It’s our shared responsibility to keep these lands clean, to protect the natural landscape and to preserve them for future generations.

To sign the petition urging Biden to designate 109,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains as a national monument, visit: