Work underway to reopen Mt. Wilson Toll Road San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Janette Williams Staff Writer
By Janette Williams, Staff Writ
PASADENA - Work to clear thousands of tons of earth from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road has started, four years after the popular hiking trail was blocked by a huge landslide triggered by record winter rains.
"It made my day - my month - when I saw something going on," said Guy Walters, an avid mountain biker, who said his family moved to the neighborhood to be close to the recreation area. "Just to see tractors out there, moving dirt!"
Funded by a $1.48-million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, the work is "rapidly approaching the half-way mark," said Kevin Johnson, assistant chief of the Forestry Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which is supervising the project.
He said the steep trail is scheduled to reopen in mid- to late July.
"They started mobilizing equipment at the beginning of February and spent the month gathering materials and prepping the site," Johnson said. "So far there have not been too many obstacles - the slide material is mostly decomposed granite with some rocks in there, but not too much."
Johnson said crews are excavating 12 feet below the historic 100-year-old road - originally a track widened to get the 100-inch Mt. Wilson telescope up to the observatory. They will build it back up in compacted layers, he said, using wire-mesh baskets specially designed to hold the soil.
The baskets will be stacked five-deep in separate layers as a foundation for the compacted road bed, Johnson said.
"These baskets are designed to move from side to side in an earthquake, not necessarily to fail like a rigid surface" could, he said. "And it will be a dirt road, unpaved like it was before."
Pasadena applied for the FEMA grant under an agreement that the county's Consolidated Fire Protection District would do the work. The department uses the Toll Road to give firefighters vehicle access to the ranger station at Henninger Flats.
The massive land slide near the entrance gate on Pine Crest Drive was the most dramatic result of record El Nino winter rains in 2004-2005. But nine other areas around Eaton Canyon - four within Pasadena city boundaries and five in Los Angeles County - also were affected.
Johnson said repairs are slated for an area just before the bridge over the Eaton Canyon Wash and an area beyond the entrance gate.
For safety reasons, hikers and other recreational users should stay clear of what is basically a construction zone until the work is completed, Johnson said.
Mickey Long, regional park superintendent for Los Angeles County and director of the Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena, said everyone there is "very happy" to see the work finally underway.
"The demand is tremendous for hikers using that toll road," Long said. "They thought we were ground zero for all their questions, but we didn't have any answers. There were thousands of questions over the last four years - I would say one or two a day since the slide occurred. People really, really wanted to get up there."
Walters said he's relieved work has started since he thought FEMA funding might fall through when "everything started bottoming out and crashing" at the end of last year.
"For a lot of people who live in the area, it's really an extension of your back yard," said Walters. "I guess the thing is, three miles up from city roads and you're basically in a wilderness area.