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Helping the next generation discover the San Gabriels

Brenda Kyle, a longtime resident of southern California, reflects on how the San Gabriel Mountains became such a big part of her life - and how she shares her love of the outdoors with others.

Editor's Note: This blog introduces readers to Brenda Kyle, a docent at Eaton Canyon. 

"We heard from the community that for a lot of urban families this is their only big, outdoor space. And too many children in L.A. County, especially children of color, don't have access to parks where they can run free and breathe fresh air, experience nature, and learn about their own environment. And that was Brenda Kyle's experience...for Brenda, for the entire community, this is an issue of social justice. Because it's not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight -– you have to be able to access it." -President Obama, October 10, 2014

San Gabriel Mountains Infographic 4

Today, I can assure my nephews that there are no tigers in the San Gabriel Mountains, information that’s helped make me a popular auntie. But I wasn’t always so well-informed. I grew up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The main street running through our town paralleled the San Gabriel range, with all northbound streets leading up to the steep mountain sides. As an adult, I noticed the mountains from the stands at a Dodger game and sometimes even used them to navigate. But I had never visited them.

It wasn’t until I was looking for something inexpensive to do with my daughter that I heard about guided nature walks for families in Eaton Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains. Turns out, these national public lands are teeming with wildlife (but, to my nephews’ relief, no scary tigers!), cultural history, breathtaking scenery, and gifts of clean air and drinking water. I was an instant convert. Soon after, I became a part-time docent, leading regular hikes for families and offering eye-opening experiences to local young people.

The more walks I led the more I realized that, even though the San Gabriel Mountains can be seen from almost any point in Southern California, they are often unknown to residents.  Worse yet, that lack of awareness can manifest as neglect. Trash fills the waterways that provide a third of the drinking water for Los Angeles County. Graffiti mars canyon walls. Parking, visitor services, restrooms, educational programs are woefully underfunded and understaffed. 

The President’s designation of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument last week will help change that. After 10 years – a generation – of work by thousands of local residents, the President has not only protected the crown jewel of Los Angeles, but elevated investment in and visibility of this close-to-home yet uncared for recreational resource. Now, more families will access and enjoy these national public lands. More children will be inspired by the wonders of America’s Great Outdoors.

In addition, the President’s leadership has sparked private funding for new trails, tree-plantings and river restoration projects in communities all over the San Gabriel Valley.

These days, as the President mentioned in his speech, I take my two nephews, ages four and five, with me to the mountains every chance I get. They are the second generation to grow up in my tiny foothill town, but, unlike me, these kids go to the San Gabriel Mountains. They can identify two types of sage, as well as buckwheat and sagebrush. They clean up trash to help protect wildlife. They pull invasive mustard weeds to save native plants. They enjoy fresh air and respect the outdoors. 

And most important, they ask me to take them into the forest. They are eager stewards and explorers of our Great Outdoors. If you ask them why they like the San Gabriel Mountains, they will very enthusiastically tell you: “We can run and play in the river. We can stand in the waterfall. We can see woodpeckers.” Their list is endless, as it should be. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument – and all of our national public lands – not only expose our children to nature, but to the world.  Thanks to the San Gabriel Mountains, opportunity is now in their vocabulary.

Brenda Kyle is a resident of Duarte, California, and a docent at Eaton Canyon.