Hidden Creeks Park was once slated for a 188-home luxury subdivision.
It’s a strange drive: down a long stretch of narrow road that winds through a post-apocalyptic landscape resembling coal country, but where mountains are being flattened and graded not for mining but for luxury mega-developments. Eventually, one crosses a bridge that cautions it is for residents only, not the “general public,” and out of the postmodern hellscape into mountain county, where ranches still dot the hills.
The road eventually turns into a rutted dirt track, edged with dusty blue lupins. Traffic here involves waiting for quails to cross the road, or for a vulture to lazily levitate out of the way.
At our destination, the media is directed to park near a derelict ranch house. It’s hard to tell if it’s a real relic from the ranching era or a movie set, but a minefield of cow pats in the grass suggests that the ranching history of this site is not long in the past.
A Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) ranger offers us a lift in his truck up to the event site. He drops us off near the crest of a hill. Behind us, a panorama of tract houses extends as far as one can see, a few steps away, on the other side of the hill, is an unbroken vista of mountains.
On the hillside below, in a field of green winter grass, is a small gathering of people seated in folding chairs. There is a table holding boxes of donuts, urns of coffee, and an incongruous cow-shaped creamer.
This was the dedication ceremony for Hidden Creeks Park, a brand new 257-acre section of open space in the Chatsworth Hills, once slated for a subdivision of 188 luxury homes.
Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians Elder Alan Salazar performed a ceremonial blessing at the start of the event. He reminded the audience gathered there that the Tataviam are a landless people, and that open space like this new park preserves the last remaining pieces of a sacred landscape for a displaced culture.
Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) Executive Director Joe Edmiston served as master of ceremonies. “It was imperative that we protect this land, and not allow the footprint of development in the San Fernando Valley to extend into core, irreplaceable habitat,” he said.
The Conservancy approved $150,000 for the purchase of the land. The SMMC’s sister agency, the Mountains Restoration and Conservation Authority (MRCA) will maintain and administer the new park.
The speakers at the event included representatives from the other agencies and local government officials involved in the acquisition, including state Senator Henry Stern, Wildlife Conservation Board Executive Director John Donnelly, and Los Angeles County Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who praised the preservation of the land as the best possible outcome.
Conservationists fought the Hidden Creeks development for more than a decade on environmental grounds. Plans to re-contour more than half of the property to mitigate an ancient landslide would have put a key watershed and creek at risk, as well as eliminating an important wildlife corridor and putting endangered and threatened wildlife at risk.
Paul Edelman, Chief of Natural Resources and Planning for the MRCA, described the Hidden Creeks Estate development proposal as “unforgivably flawed,” in the environmental impact for the project.
At the dedication ceremony, Edelman shook hands with Craig Campbell, the representative for the most recent owners of the property, and praised the developers for working with conservationists to create the new park.
“We realized this piece of land needed to remain open space,” Campbell said
Berger also praised the developer for becoming a willing seller. “The developer worked with us, not against us,” she said. “Open space [like this] is few and far between.”
“This is a large step, but it’s just one step,” Stern said. “Today is wonderful, but near here is a resource that is not natural that may belong eventually in this wildlife corridor.”
He was referring to the adjacent Aliso Canyon Natural Gas facility, the site of a massive natural gas leak that was discovered by SoCalGas employees in October 2015.
Aliso Canyon would become arguably the biggest natural gas leak in U.S. history, releasing an estimated 97,100 tons of methane into the atmosphere over a four-month period—enough greenhouse gases to cause a small but measurable spike in global carbon levels.
Although its impact on real estate prices and housing demand in the vicinity was not discussed at the dedication ceremony, the disaster undoubtedly played a role in how Hidden Creeks became parkland instead of luxury housing.
Stern spoke of how open space buffers like this one protect people as well as wildlife. “Go enjoy it,” he said.
Hidden Creeks is now part of 11,000 contiguous acres of parkland, including 2,326-acre Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park at Joughin Ranch. This new acquisition provides a key migration corridor and perennial water source to a full complement of large mammals including black bear, mountain lion, mule deer, bobcat, American badger, grey fox, long-tailed weasel, ring-tailed cat, and the endangered California Condor. It’s also a critical puzzle-piece in the Rim of the Valley, a proposed network of open space around Greater Los Angeles Basin, intended to provide recreation opportunities, wildlife habitat and connectivity, and to preserve what has been described as the lungs of Los Angeles.
Learn more at MRCA.ca.gov