2011-06-16 / Community

New hiking trail to fullfill retired firefighter’s dream

By Stephanie Bertholdo

After 35 years of dedication and doggedness, mountain man Don Wallace has achieved his long-standing goal of connecting the Las Virgenes Creek Trail to Simi Valley and eventually the ocean.

Dubbed the Don Wallace Trail Project by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the 2,500- foot path will become the default route between the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains for people and animals.

Yaroslavsky funded the project with $300,000 from the Safe Neighborhood Parks bond of 1996.

The trail segment starts south of Agoura Road in Calabasas and runs under a 101 Freeway overpass. The trail section will connect open space, unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County and the city of Calabasas to Malibu, said Yaroslavsky in his report to the board of supervisors. It will also connect to the larger Las Virgenes Creek Trail and will offer more recreational opportunities for hikers and equestrians.

At a recent Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council meeting, Wallace said that when the trail is completed Las Virgenes open space will connect to Jordan Ranch and China Flat in the Simi Hills. The area will also become the first cross-mountain trail to connect to trail systems in Malibu and the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, Wallace said.

“ Once the section from DeAnza to Ahmanson is completed each end will open to a rich array of existing and planned trails from the ocean to Simi Valley and beyond,” Wallace said. “This segment will also complete a major component of the Rim-of-the-Valley Trail, if that proposal becomes a reality. It was the missing link. It will open up an entire world.”

The project will include brush clearance, stabilization of the trail, the construction of culverts and other drainage devices, fencing, gates and signs. Lighting will be installed for safety, Yaroslavsky said.

The $300,000 may not be enough to complete all of the work, but Wallace plans to involve volunteers from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation, local Chambers of Commerce and service clubs such as the Rotary and the Optimists.

Wallace also expects help from a variety of environmental groups and recreational clubs, including the Sierra Club and the Trancas Riders, and hopes mountain biking organizations will pitch in.

He joked that he may even lasso support from politicians, congregants at local synagogues and churches, and “passers-by on the street.”

Frank Moreno, supervisor of Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation, said the trail will run north and south through many jurisdictions and the approval process is just beginning.

Moreno said there are many environmental issues that must be addressed, and the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Fish and Game will help take care of any legal issues that may come up in developing the trail. Approval from Caltrans will also be required.

Work has already begun on the trail. Moreno has assembled a team and is coordinating with the city of Calabasas. Easement negotiations have also started with upstream and downstream properties “to nail down a continuous easement from upper Las Virgenes Open Space (Ahmanson Ranch) down to DeAnza Park,” Wallace said.

Moreno commended Wallace on his persistence.

“He’s so energetic and ambitious— so inspiring,” Moreno said.

Wallace, 70, is a retired Los Angeles County firefighter. He and his wife, Jeanne, live on a 4-acre ranch in the Cold Canyon area of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Wallace became a trails advocate in the early 1970s. The story goes that a neighbor wanted to build a winery and blocked a trail near Wallace’s home to keep away passers-by. Wallace worked for three years to force the neighbor to open an alternative easement to the trail, which had been built by the Boy Scouts in 1935.

The experience led Wallace to get involved with many mountain and environmental causes. He has served on the Santa Monica National Recreation Area Advisory Commission, the Resources Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Malibu Creek Watershed Council and other groups dedicated to improving the mountain community.

In the early 1990s, Wallace served as a deputy for Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman.

Wallace is thrilled that his long- standing pet project is finally underway. But he won’t take all the credit. He said the honor must be shared with Equestrian Trails Inc. Corral 36, a mountain equestrian group which appointed him as its legislative director and gave him “organizational clout” to lobby the various governmental agencies on the Las Virgenes Trail project.

He also credited the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the California State Parks and Recreation Department, the Santa Monica Conservancy and the Santa Monica Trails Council with advocating for the connector trail.

“I was simply the agitator who kept the issue alive,” Wallace said. “I am eternally grateful that Zev and his wonderful staff took this project so seriously and devised such an effective plan to fund the project.”

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