Volunteers, advocates celebrate Piru Creek wild and scenic designation

BY BOB SEMERAU/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Jul 07, 2009

SANTA CLARITA—March 31, 2009 marked the day when Piru Creek was officially named as the only Los Angeles County river to receive status a part of the “National Wild and Scenic River System”—and one of the few such rivers to be so near to an urban area.

Sunday, June 28  drew many groups to the creek to commemorate the occasion with a day of cleanup and dam busting along Piru Creek.

The designation was met with great pride and celebration as more than 60 people participated in a day of events and activities alongside the river at Frenchman’s Flat, fifteen minutes north of Santa Clarita and just off interstate 5 at Templin Highway.

With over 1,000 visitors on a given day during summer weekends, Frenchman’s Flat and Piru Creek needed some help. Carolin Atchison of Friends of the River, a Sacramento based statewide river conservation organization explained how the Wild and Scenic designation came about. “Sponsored by Rep. Howard McKeon and Sen. Barbara Boxer
Piru Creek was introduced as part of S22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, on Jan. 7, 2009 and allowed to stand in its final version.”

As a watershed for the Sespe Wilderness and continuing down to flow into the Santa Clara River, Piru Creek has three miles set aside as catch and release only starting at just below Pyramid Dam. The creek is one of the few year-round wild trout fishing streams in Southern California with catchable-sized trout in abundance.

Several teams worked throughout the morning busting dams built of stacked rocks and boulders set up by visitors to create swimming areas. Friends of the River’s Atchison said, “While these dams seem harmless they impede the fish traveling naturally up and down stream and our volunteers work to remove the dams whenever they can.”

Piru Creek runs for almost 50 miles in a large arc that follows the geologic activity of the area where the mountains of the Coastal range ran into the inland Transverse range in the Sespe Wilderness area millions of years ago. The resulting canyons and rugged terrain just an hour from Los Angeles make excellent habitat for wildlife and a wonderful opportunity for easy access and viewing by city dwellers.

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel, president of the Community Hiking Club, a local group of concerned individuals dedicated to cleaning up and maintaining hiking trails throughout the area, was on hand along with several members of her group. These dedicated souls spent much of the morning hours collecting “micro-trash” such as broken glass and other glittering litter.

“This area is part of the Condor habitat and as such the birds often come here in search of food,” explained Erskine-Hellrigel. “They fly over and see all the bits of shiny stuff here and mistake it for bone fragments which they then eat.”

After painstakingly clearing out several pounds of the micro-trash from the area the hiking group had successfully returned a small part back to nature.

Once the cleanup and dam busting activities slowed around midday everyone gathered to share lunch and swap stories about time spent along Piru Creek.

Members of the Santa Clarita Casting Club, Sierra Pacific Fly Fishers, Conejo Fly Fishers, Wilderness Fly Fishers, Fly Fishers Club of Orange County, Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps and Federation of Fly Fishers Southwest Council were on hand to toast the achievement and protections afforded by Wild and Scenic River designation.

The newly arrived US Forest Service Ranger Bob Blount answered a few questions concerning Wild and Scenic designation. “The river will now become a higher priority for Biologists, Botanists and Geologists that will survey and control the river and about a ¼ mile on either side of it,” explained Ranger Blount. “The designation does not have any direct influence on water rights or flow-rates; however it will continue to be monitored.” Ranger Blount could not comment further due to pending litigation on water flow in the area.

During the cleanup that morning several makeshift fire-rings were taken down and the stones used to build them were returned to their rightful place alongside the river. Ranger Blount explained that “These fire-rings are illegal, as is any open fire in this area. We try to educate the public but the message is difficult. We are planning more stringent signage to address this issue. For now, the efforts of people such as these volunteers will go a long way to help with the problem.”

The benefits of the volunteer’s efforts could be seen at a glance. Free flowing water, clean pathways and trails, and trash-free campsites along the river will now be part of the new Piru Creek—Wild and Scenic River. And more fish to be caught, enjoyed and released by visitors for years to come.

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