27 June 2015

Reopening Bane Canyon Entrance to Chino Hills State Park

A view of many of the exhibitors at today's event.
This morning's event to commemorate the opening of the Bane Canyon Road entrance to Chino Hills State Park was a nice event with visitors able to take guided nature tours and mountain bike rides, participate in children's activities including face painting, and visit with a variety of exhibitors, including California State Parks, Hills for Everyone, the cities of Chino and Chino Hills, Chino Valley Independent Fire District, Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association, West Valley Search and Rescue, Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council and more.

West Valley Search and Rescue had a cool demonstration interactive showing a 9-1 pulley system that allows for pulling rescue stretchers up steep inclines.  Here, a 9-year old girl uses that system to show her father what's what.
The event went from 9 a.m. to Noon and though the weather was humid and a bit warm early on, storm clouds rolled in, the temperature cooled and there were even a few drops of rain, though conditions remained largely dry.

Representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had an impressive display of mounted animals, including a small brown bear, a bobcat, and a coyote.
The new road was something to behold, especially for those who were used to the old thoroughfare, which was dirt and gravel for about two miles and ran close to a creek, including direct crossings of that course.

Claire Schlotterbeck, executive director of Hills for Everyone, which was a founding entity of the state park, discusses local projects the organization is engaged in with a visitor.
Now, the route has been diverted away from the creek to the east and the work involved a good deal of grading and retaining, guard rails, and other improvements, including some picnic shelters and view points.

Members of the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council shared information about its work in promoting wildfire awareness.
The three miles to the Rolling M Ranch headquarters, next to which is the campground, is so much easier to travel, making the heart of the park much more accessible.

23 June 2015

Chino Hills State Park Bane Canyon Entrance Reopening This Saturday!

A portion of the newly-completed and vastly improved Bane Canyon Road entrance to Chino Hills State Park.  Click on any image to see them enlarged in a new window.  Photos courtesy of Hills for Everyone.
For the last couple of years, Bane Canyon Road, the only drive-in entrance to the heart of the 14,000-acre Chino Hills State Park and the access point to the ranch, barn and campgrounds, was closed for a major rerouting and repaving.

Now, the project is completed and a celebration is being held this Saturday, 27 June with visitors encouraged to come by anytime from 9 a.m. to Noon to mark the reopening. The free event is sponsored by California State Parks, the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association, and Hills for Everyone.  Sponsorship is provided from Toyota through the National Environmental Education Foundation.

A beautiful panorama of the topography embodying the oak and walnut woodland habitat found at Chino Hills State Park. 
After driving the three-mile route from the Bane Canyon Road entrance off 4721 Sapphire Road in Chino Hills, guests will come to the Rolling M Ranch, which serves as park headquarters, where the event will feature such activities as:
  • a native plant walk of the diverse palette found in the park
  • an interpretive hike of the park's natural and historic features
  • a bike ride through sections of the park
  • seeing a fire engine from the local Chino Valley Independent Fire District
  • crafts for kids
  • face-painting
  • light refreshments
  • informational booths from such organizations as
    • California State Park
    • Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association
    • Chino Valley Independent Fire District
    • the cities of Chino and Chino Hills
    • Hills for Everyone
    • Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council
The completion of this major project now allows for greater access to this gem of a local urban park, which provides so many opportunities to enjoy a significant portion of our remaining oak and walnut woodland habitat.

This covered picnic area is one of many new improvements from the Bane Canyon Road project.
So, come down and check out the new roadway and the improved access to the park!

20 June 2015

More Ski Villa History

In the wake of a few efforts to develop a sustainable social club on the former Workmen's Circle camp property off Carbon Canyon Road east of Sleepy Hollow from 1958 to 1965, a new enterprise called Ski Villa was launched that was a strange concept:  year-round skiing without snow.

A post in the early days of this blog (2008) discussed the project, but further information from the Chino Champion and Los Angeles Times gives some more details on the short-lived and bizarre enterprise.

A 13 April 1966 article in the Champion observed that the opening of the project was anticipated to be within a couple of days.  Developed by canyon resident John F. Kramer and other investors, Ski Villa "is located behind the Canyon Hills Riding Club" just off Carbon Canyon Road and "some of the old country club buildings are incorporated in the project."

Kramer provided the paper an explanation of how the slope was to be constructed, noting that, "the area will be covered with asphalt, and that 6x6-inch interlocking plastic squares will grass-like fingers will be glued to the asphalt."  He then compared the project to the only other example like Ski Villa in the world, the Funabashi ski slope built in Japan, thirty-five miles from Tokyo, and opened in 1963.  In that case, steel sheeting was laid down, on which wood was placed with the plastic tiles nailed to the wood.

A conceptual drawing of the entrance to Ski Villa from the Chino Champion, 13 April 1966. The smaller structures behind the sign and the larger two-story building at the far right date from the Camp Kinder Ring days and were used by subsequent club occupying the site after 1958 and are still standing. From newspapers.com. Click on either image to see them enlarged in a separate window.
The proprietor of Ski Villa went on to note that there would be tow lines to take skiers to distances of 200, 400 and 1,100 feet on the slope and that he was hoping to have other slopes built on the property, which was projected to expand from seven to eighty acres (this ambitious agenda was not attained, however.)  Kramer's intention was to get in touch with regional ski clubs so that their members could try out Ski Villa.

The manufacturer of the plastic tiles was identified as the Randozza [actually, Randazzo] Plastic Company in Gardena.  This firm incorporated in 1959 under the leadership of president Phillip Randazzo and the business expected the life of the Dow polypropylene 205 6" tiles, sporting 408 bristles of 1 1/2" size, to last three years, though the Japanese at Funabashi were evidently expecting a twenty-year lifespan.

Because the enterprise was geared mainly towards night uses, there were to be "several spectator areas with high candle power lights illuminating the entire area."  Hours were intended to be Wednesday through Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.  Ten certified instructors were to be on-hand to teach novices and prices were expected to be in the $3-5 range.

Inevitable delays, however, ensued and a 22 June Champion article observed that "finishing touches are being added to Ski Villa, the giant mad-made ski resort in Carbon Canyon" with the intention of a July grand opening.

Apparently, the idea of using asphalt proved impractical as it was said to "disintegrate" on testing, so concrete was applied as a base instead.  About two-thirds of the work had been completed by press time and crews were working around-the-clock to try to meet a 4th of July weekend deadline.

A 6" Dow polypropylene 205 plastic tile, missing some its 408 1 1/2" bristles, salvaged at the end of December 2014 from the former Ski Villa site before it was bulldozed for the 76-unit Canyon Hills housing tract.
The piece noted that there were two swimming pools, a shuffleboard deck, and a roller skating rink on the premises and that "future plans include an outdoor skating area," but whether this another roller skating rink or something else was not clarified.

Among the earliest advertisements located for Ski Villa was one that appeared in the 6 July 1966 Orange County section of the Los Angeles Times through Neal's Sporting Goods store, which included a branch in Fullerton.  Subsequent ads touted packages, clothing and other amenities available through the store for use at Ski Villa.

The 15 July issue of the Times featured a couple of photos of the new resort, including a comely young woman skiing down the slope, through the interesting (!) angle of someone's spread legs at the bottom and another of a worker laying the plastic tiles in place.

As a demonstration that Ski Villa wasn't the only strange scheme for all-year skiing in southern California, the Times's "West" magazine section of 23 October 1966 featured the Carbon Canyon facility with others, including a silicone-surfaced plastic run leading to a straw and cottonseed slope near Mt. Baldy; a sand dune at Malibu; and a mechanical example at a sporting goods store in the San Fernando Valley.  The article observed that "the visual effect is satisfying (pure white) and the cognoscenti swear the physical effect is satisfactory — exactly like skiing on fresh 'powder.'"

On 7 December, another Times article came out regarding Ski Villa, noting that "you'll never see a bad snow report from the Southland's newest ski area" and claimed that the plastic bristles on the slope gave "like mid-morning spring snow."  It was added that there was a tog shop, rental shop and restaurant on site, all decorated in an Alpine style.

A photo showing vehicles grading the Ski Villa site.  Note, in the background, some of the structures dating back to the Camp Kinder Ring facility and the subsequent clubs that occupied the property after the camp closed in 1958.   Within the last several months, grading for a future 76-unit housing project called "Canyon Hills" has taken place on the property. From the 13 April 1966 edition of the Chino Champion, from newspapers.com.
Chuck Morse, the National Ski Patrol's regional chairperson, observed that "the plastic bristles are comparable to hard-pack snow and offer a little more stability, since there are no tracks from other skiers.  There is good edge control and plenty of speed when ski bottoms are coated with silicone."  Morse went on to endorse Ski Villa for pre-natural snow "limbering up", trying out new ski boots, or introducing youngsters to skiing without troublesome cold temperatures!

Morse went on to state that there had been no reported breaks or fractures since the facility opened in July, although "friction burns are suffered occasionally by skiers with bare arms or legs, but nothing serious."  He also noted that the 280-foot vertical drop was not much of a challenge for established skiers, but was fine for instruction, practice and general fun.

This, by the way, was counter to a statement made in a Sports Illustrated piece from earlier in '66 in which an unnamed Randazzo representative admitted that the physical sensation was not quite like snow.

That latter observation may have come from Ski Villa's president Marion (Randy) Randazzo of the firm that made the plastic tiles.  Tellingly, in the Times piece, he admitted "business had been slow," but that the $750,000 project was still operating in the red.  Randazzo was quoted as saying that "comments from skiers have been mostly good and we've had lots of repeats."  He said he and Kramer hoped that they could sell franchises if Ski Villa did well.

Of course, the venture did not do well and failed within a very short time of the appearance of the Times's December article.  With Ski Villa's premature end came further attempts to use the property as a club--which will be discussed in future entries.

14 June 2015

Tres Hermanos Preservation Effort Launched

In the wake of recent revelations that the Tres Hermanos Ranch, comprised of 2,500 acres and recently put up for sale by the successor agency to the City of Industry's shuttered redevelopment agency, a group of Diamond Bar and Chino Hills residents have initiated an effort to preserve the property.

As discussed here before, a sale price as high as $125 million could be fetched, which money would go to the state, and current zoning would allow for nearly 1,100 houses.  It was reported that the likelihood of foreign investment is quite high, based on statements made by The Hoffman Company, the Irvine firm that is managing the sale.  Clearly, any buyer, no matter where they are from, is going to seek zoning modifications to maximize the amount of residential and, perhaps, commercial development possible.

The first meeting of those interested in saving Tres Hermanos for open space, a regional park, or as an addition to Chino Hills State Park was on 31 May at the Diamond Bar City Center.  A Facebook page was set up specifically for that event (see here for that listing) and, presumably, there will be something else coming soon.

Meantime, the 6 June edition of the Chino Hills Champion covered the nascent effort, followed by an article yesterday in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  In the latter, a Chino Hills resident who holds a doctorate in environmental science and engineering, Dan Swenson, started a letter-writing campaign, was quoted as lamenting the loss of wide swaths of open land as an escape from urban sprawl, stating that "it is almost like a relief from all the urban everything we are constantly surrounded by" to have the ranch in its current state.

A view of a portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch from Grand Avenue north on an overcast morning last week.
Swenson, citing examples in Monrovia and Boulder, Colorado of successful citizen-initiated efforts to preserve land for open space and passive use, approached the regional state parks superintendent about interest in annexing Tres Hermanos to Chino Hills State Park.  All Kelly Elliott could say was that the ranch is among other properties identified as desirable for acquisition.  Clearly, the price tag is steep for any preservation group, much less state parks, to contemplate.

Diamond Bar resident Brian Worthington has launched a bid for city council with saving Tres Hermanos as a key component of his emerging platform, saying that the effort stemmed for a few people getting together to discuss what to do.  According to the Tribune, some 400 people have become Facebook friends of the effort.

Meanwhile, persons from The John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona have sprung into action, as well, with a preservation plan being started, according to the Center's Ashley Cupp, as quoted on the Center's Facebook page.

The Champion piece quoted Bob Goodwin, who spearheaded the impressive effort to redirect the Southern California Edison TRTP towers underground within Chino Hills, as saying that there were more Chino Hills residents at the 31 May meeting than those from Diamond Bar, but observed that the concern was much bigger than just about Chino Hills, in which about 70% of the ranch lies.

The article also had a quote from a Cal Poly student, who noted that "we need more than passive opposition.  We need action, involvement, ideas, inspiration, and the energy to fight — found only through the community."

These are well-spoken words and the challenge was brought to the fore at last Monday's lecture for the Chino Hills Historical Society by Claire Schlotterbeck, covered here, in which there were more questions about Tres Hermanos than on her subject, the history of Chino Hills State Park.

Schlotterbeck, with decades of experience and still engaged in preservation efforts on several local fronts, has noted that it will take an extraordinarily coordinated, disciplined, well-funded effort that has significant community engagement, political will and staff agreement at whatever agencies are involved.  She and Goodwin have directed just such campaigns, so, obviously, it can happen with Tres Hermanos, as well.

Whether the recent launch of the effort to save the ranch can replicate those and others will be determined in upcoming months and years as the slow march to development stems from a sale, studies, applications, staff reports, hearings and other elements.

But, the first steps have been taken on the long road ahead.

08 June 2015

Tonight's Talk on Chino Hills State Park

Presented by the Chino Hills Historical Society, tonight's PowerPoint-illustrated talk by Hills for Everyone executive director Claire Schlotterbeck about Chino Hills State Park provided an excellent overview.

The lecture covered the geologic forces that shaped the area; the fact that our Mediterranean climate has the greatest level of biodiversity of species in the world outside of rainforests; some of the animal and plant life (bobcats, roadrunners, owls, eagles, wildflowers of many kinds, etc.) found in the park; and its many uses (camping, hiking, biking, horse-riding, and so on).

Schlotterbeck paid tribute to David Meyers, formerly of La Habra and now living in Oak Glen near Yucaipa, who saw the growing development in the region in the 1970s and became a driving force in the movement to set aside land in the Chino Hills for park uses.

The intent initially was to create a regional park in each of the four counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino) that intersect in the hills.  It became quickly apparent, however, that the best hope was with the California State Parks system, based on a suggestion from a volunteer who worked with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM.)  When it came to meeting a state parks criteria that a site having "outstanding natural, scenic and cultural values," the Chino Hills area fit the bill.

It also helped that nearly half of the state's population lived within an hour of the site and that it was near disadvantaged areas that could benefit from a natural resource like the park.  Moreover, saving representative areas of the state's diverse landscape was an essential element.  There was a bit of a handicap to overcome in that the majority of state parks are north of Fresno and resources, naturally, were directed more that way.

However, a 1977 feasibility study showed conclusively that the Chino Hills area was a great locale for a state park.  Three years later, Schlotterbeck, who had recently moved back to the area from out of state and who was raising twin girls, went to a meeting as a representative of her homeowner's association and volunteered to help the fledgling Hills for Everyone organization, little dreaming she'd run the institution and provide much impetus for preserving open space in the area.

In 1981, the first acquisition of land took place for the new facility and additional pieces were acquired through the Eighties and Nineties, so that, now, the park covers over 14,000 acres. The complexity and cost (some $200 million in total investment) were a record for a state park.  But, the initiative's success spurred on other preservation projects.

Schlotterbeck, however, pointed to a book called The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen and a point made about having as much of a large-scale preservation area to protect habitats for animals and plants from cougars and oaks on down to lizards and unusual indigenous flowers.  The vitality of an ecosystem, with all of its mutually dependent parts, is often lost on people, who tend to compartmentalize and isolate aspects that are naturally interconnected.

What this meant, then, was a larger concept involving the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor, stretching from the Whittier Narrows on the west to the lands bordering the Cleveland National Forest, south of the 91 Freeway to the east and south.  Every incorporated city and unincorporated community bordering the corridor support the efforts to preserve the lands within it, with the notable exception of Diamond Bar.

Yet, some 4,000 acres in the Puente Hills at the west side of the corridor have been saved, as well as the amazing success story of land in Coal Canyon south of the 91 Freeway, where a former freeway underpass now serves as a critical access point for wildlife moving from Chino Hills to the Santa Ana Mountains and the Cleveland National Forest.  This property was fully entitled for 1,550 houses and commercial development, but its owner, Steve St. Clair, agreed to sell it for preservation, profiting far less than he would have if he'd developed the land.

Some 8,000 acres of the "missing middle" are comprised of 3,000 acres owned by Aera Energy, a Shell Oil subsidiary, on both sides of the 57 Freeway in unincorporated Orange County and in Diamond Bar and the 5,000 acre Tonner Canyon, including more than half of that within the Tres Hermanos Ranch, owned by the City of Industry since 1978, but now being marketed for sale.

Other Hills for Everyone projects touched upon include fire awareness through work with the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council and the HFE's own 100-year study showing the canyon's fire history and, where known, the points of origin (not surprisingly, along freeways and roadways).  Another has been the removal of the highly-invasive and flammable arundo donax, which has largely been cleared from Carbon Creek as one of the sole bright sides to the massive destruction of the 2008 Freeway Complex Fire, which burned 95% of the state park.

Notably, there was much discussion during the Q&A about Tres Hermanos and Tonner Canyon and what could be done to save this area.  Schlotterbeck noted that zoning in Diamond Bar (in which is 700 acres) and Chino Hills (where 1,800 acres are situated) allows for over 1,000 housing units.  The opportunity to use the referendum to prevent zoning changes to provide more density is key, she stated, noting that there were three key elements to preserving open space.

First, there has to be public engagement.  Second, it has to be a political priority.  Finally, there has to be staff agreement in the various governmental jurisdictions involved.  Of course, deep pockets to raise funds for fighting developers and acquiring land is another essential.

Schlotterbeck closed with a great summary, along the lines of the fact that parks honor the creator through creations, like the amazing diverse landscapes that form Chino Hills State Park and other preserved properties in the region.

The next presentation by the Chino Hills Historical Society is at the Chino Hills Community Center on Monday, 12 October at 7 p.m. when Max Scott, former executive director of Boys Republic, discusses the history and operations of this important institution helping wayward boys find purpose and direction in life.

06 June 2015

Chino Hills State Park Lecture Monday

On Monday at 7:00 p.m., the Chino Hills Historical Society presents its next lecture on local history with Claire Schlotterbeck, executive director of the conservation organization Hills for Everyone, talking about the creation of Chino Hills State Park.

Ranch land for decades, the park property was subject to all kinds of potential development proposals from a regional airport, to a national cemetery, to transportation corridors to housing developments.

Fortunately, Schlotterbeck and other dedicated volunteers labored and lobbied starting in 1977 to create a suburban oasis that led to the creation of the 14,000-acre state park, which officially became a park in 1986 and which contains 65 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails.

This presentation is being held at the Chino Hills Community Center at 14250 Peyton Drive, across from Ayala High School between Eucalyptus and Grand avenues.