Fish-eye lens view from the Verdugo Mountains in Glendale

A fish-eye lens view of Glendale, La Crescenta and the San Gabriel Mountains from the Verdugo Mountains in Glendale. ( Raul Roa/Staff Photographer / January 9, 2013)

Nearly all of the more than 5,000 respondents to a proposed plan to add a huge swath of wilderness to the national parks system are in favor the idea, federal officials said.

About 100 of the responses were against putting the so-called Rim of the Valley under federal parks protection, many of them representing groups who fear an extensive trails system could interfere with established activities, such as gun ranges, according to Anne Dove, the study’s project manager.

The proposal could end up putting more than 490,000 acres under federal protection from development and keep the areas open for recreational use.

The so-called Rim of the Valley study contains two preliminary options for adding all or some of the mountains encircling the San Fernando, La Crescenta, Santa Clarita, Simi and Conejo valleys to the national parks system.

One would focus on connecting communities, adding Griffith Park, the Verdugo Mountains and portions of the Los Angeles River. The other would link natural habitats, adding the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.

The public comment period on the two options closed this week.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who sponsored the legislation that created the study, said he was happy the Rim of the Valley area had been recommended for the national parks system, and hoped both options for integration would be tapped.

“The combination of the two of them would be best — maintaining the natural resources of the ecosystems and the wildlife corridors — and at the same time preserving great recreational opportunities for people,” he said.

The study found that the areas under consideration wouldn’t warrant being made their own national park, but contain diverse enough biology and geology to be a valuable addition to the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

The study cites volcanic formations in the Simi Hills Mountains, the rapid growth of the San Gabriel Mountains — as much as 2 inches in height a year — and the role the Verdugo Mountains play as a link for plants and wildlife to surrounding ranges.

In addition to the natural resources, the study also found that the cultural resources in the area — such as the Mount Wilson Observatory, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Rose Bowl — would add value to the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

If the Rim of the Valley does become part of the national parks system, it would benefit the public, Dove said.

“It provides for a more seamless experience [for users],” she said. “There are opportunities for [the National Park Service] to come in and help with surveys, planning, technical resources.”

Dove also said the agency could provide the planning and oversight necessary to build the Rim of the Valley trail that would link all of the included areas.

Bob Thompson, a member of the Sierra Club’s Crescenta Valley chapter, said he liked the idea of linking local wilderness areas and parks to the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

“I’d love to see a Rim of Valley thing come to fruition somehow and help increase our trails system, which is lacking in some areas of this valley, and link them up,” he said. “And it will get more funding, I think, which is always the problem.”

The public will next get another chance to weigh in on the proposal when Dove’s team produces its draft report in 2014, after which the final report will be submitted to Congress for review.

While a congressional vote on the plan isn’t expected for some time, Schiff said he hoped lawmakers would follow in the footsteps of their predecessors who created the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.

“I hope when they finish their study we can implement the recommendations in Congress and show the same kind of foresight the Congress did in the late 1970s,” Schiff said. “If we want to preserve these areas for future generations, this is our opportunity to act.”

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