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The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is a United States National Recreation Area containing many individual parks and open space preserves, located primarily in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. The SMMNRA is located within the greater Los Angeles region, with two thirds of the parklands in northwest Los Angeles County, and the remaining third, including a Simi Hills extension, in southeastern Ventura County.
Overall administration is by the National Park Service, coordinating with state, county, municipal, and university agencies. The Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area preserves one of the best examples of a Mediterranean climate ecosystem in the world. It also protects one of the highest densities of archaeological resources in any mountain range in the world.
The Santa Monica Mountains NRA contains 154,095 acres (62,360.0 ha) in the Santa Monica Mountains of the Transverse Ranges between the Pacific Ocean and inland valleys. Its southeastern slopes are part of the headwaters of the Los Angeles River. The California State Park system owns 42,000 acres (17,000 ha), the National Park Service controls 21,500 acres (8,700 ha), and the rest of the SMMNRA lands are in local agencies parks, university study reserves, and private property conservation easements. In size the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest urban national park in the United States.
The movement to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains has a long tradition which is frequently overlooked by historians who often focus exclusively on the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s which culminated with the establishment of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in 1978.
The first area in the Santa Monica Mountains set aside for public use was Griffith Park which was donated to the city of Los Angeles by Griffith J. Griffith in 1896.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, Frederick H. Rindge made several attempts to create a forest reserve in the Santa Monica Mountains. These reserves were precursors to national forests. In 1902 California’s State Mining Bureau examined the area being considered for the establishment of a forest reserve. The resulting report was sent to Washington where the proposal for a reserve was denied.
In 1907 an application was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior requesting that at least 70,000 acres in the mountains be designated a forest reserve. This time state mineralogist Lewis E. Aubury opposed the venture. He wrote the L.A. Time newspaper stating, “I believe that the lands embraced in the Malibu and Santa Monica districts should not be included in a forest reserve…I shall at once take the matter up with Gifford Pinchot, forester, Washington, D.C., and endeavor to ascertain his views on the subject, and further protest against the creation of this proposed reserve”. Days later the U. S. Forest Service advised Aubury that it was highly improbable that a forest reserve would be created owing to local opposition and the small amount of public land still remaining in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Limestone deposits were discovered in the mountains behind Pacific Palisades in 1925 which led to a lengthy battle between wealthy home owners of the area and land developers. The quarry site was in Traylor Canyon, three miles inland from the sea, between Santa Ynez and Temescal Canyons.Alphonzo Bell, Sr. was the real estate developer behind the quarry scheme while local opposition was led by Sylvia Morrison, who championed the preservation of the area’s natural beauty.
After much criticism of his original plan, Bell offered a new proposal. Using a new process, he would have the rock pulverized, mixed with water, and pumped via a buried pipeline to the mouth of Santa Ynez Canyon. The pipeline would continue from there along the ocean floor to an offshore buoy where it would be load on board a waiting ship. Criticism of the plan grew and eventually garnered the ire of local resident Will Rogers who parodied the plan on the front page of the L.A. Times. The debate raged citywide with such notable public figures as William Mulholland coming to Bell’s defense.
In an attempt to sway public opinion, Bell urged local residents to take company-sponsored fieldtrips, on foot and on horseback, to the quarry to see the site for themselves. Among the people who took these trips was Sylvia Morrison, who had been an early leader of environmental concerns. She was among the visitors who scrambled up the limestone cliffs on ladders and hiked and rode on horseback through the chaparral and came away thrilled with the natural beauty of the canyons. “Taking a cue from Yellowstone National Park, Morrison urged the establishment of Whitestone National Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, named after the by-now infamous cliffs.”
In 1930 Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., a lifelong advocate of national parks and considered by many as the designer of the California State Parks system, proposed a network of parks, beaches, playgrounds, and forests to promote the social, economic, and environmental vitality of Los Angeles. Olmsted also advocated for public ownership of at least 10,000 acres of the most scenic beach and mountain landscapes between Topanga and Point Dume. However, the Olmsted report was essentially killed – only 200 copies were printed – due mainly to civic leaders who put politics ahead of public space.
After lengthy court battles to preserve her estate, May Rindge (widow of Frederick H. Rindge) lost control of her lands and was forced into bankruptcy in 1938. A proposal to establish a large park was considered in exchange for the cancellation of $1.1 million in unpaid taxes. However, Los Angeles County refused the offer, thus missing the opportunity to acquire 17,000 acres of park lands.
Will Rogers State Historic Park was created in 1944 marking the establishment of the first state park in the Santa Monica Mountains and the first public land created in the mountains since Griffith Park in 1896.
In the 1960s and 70s, and possible as early of the 1950s, another campaign was undertaken to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains. Several proposals went before the U.S. Congress which called for the creation of Toyon National Park, referring to a dominant chaparral plant found in the area.
The legislative history of Toyon National Park dates back to 1971 when Representative Alphonzo Bell, Jr. first introduced a bill in the Congress.
The first of three large, rural state parks in the Santa Monica Mountains was established in 1967, when the State Division of Beaches and Parks, the forerunner of California State Parks, acquired title to 6,700 acres of the old Broome Ranch for $15.1 million. This property was the first acquision for Point Mugu State Park and was part of the old Rancho Guadalasca. 5,800 acres was purchased from Richard E. Danielson in 1972 for $2.1 million, nearly doubling the park's acreage. This property is situated northeast of the park's original 6,700 acres and consisted of mostly backcountry. A remaining 850-acre parcel which ajoined this property was purchased by the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area from Danielson in 1980, and is named Rancho Sierra Vista.
Topanga State Park was established in 1974. The park's original name was Topanga Canyon State Park, but the name was shortened because officials reasoned that the park encompassed more than just Topanga Canyon.
In the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, 20th Century Fox Movie Ranch, commonly called Century Ranch, was a 2,700-acre land acquisition of what would become Malibu Creek State Park. It was purchased by the State of California in 1974 for $4.8 million. Reagan Ranch, a 120-acre property and former home of Ronald Reagan, was included in the original Century Ranch purchase. Hope Ranch, owned by entertainer Bob Hope, which abutted Century Ranch, was purchased in 1975 for $4.1 million. After some controversy, the State Parks and Recreation Commission adopted a compromise on the classification of the Century Ranch property and official name the area Malibu Creek State Park in 1976.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established November 10, 1978, after a long campaign for preservation of the Santa Monica Mountains by local and regional conservationists. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a California state agency, was created in 1980 for the acquisition of land for preservation as open space, for wildlife and California native plants habitat preserves, and for public recreation activities. The SMMNRA is growing by 'mosaic pieces' linking critical habitats, saving unique areas, and expanding existing parks.
The SMMNRA is part of the Rim of the Valley Trail Corridor; the Rim of the Valley Trail is a plan in progress for connecting the parkland and recreational areas of the Conejo, San Fernando, Simi, and La Crescenta Valleys via trailheads and trails in the mountains and valleys.
Entertainer and land speculator Bob Hope created controversy in the early 1990s when he proposed to sell 5,900 acres (2,390 ha) of Corral Canyon area land to the federal government in exchange for 59 acres (23.9 ha) of federal parkland in the nearby Cheeseboro Canyon section of Santa Monica Mountains NRA, in order to build an access road to a new 'Jordan Ranch' golf course and housing development. The land swap was never completed, the Jordan Ranch became the Palo Commado Park section, and most of the land for Corral Canyon was later donated by Bob Hope.
The highly visible natural ranch land adjacent to the intersection of U.S. Route 101 and Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas, formerly the Brent's Junction area and owned by Bob Hope, was acquired by the SMM Conservancy to add to the Las Virgenes View Park of the Santa Monica Mountains NRA lands in June 2010. It is a refreshing open space seen by many traveling by, on the Route 101-Ventura Freeway now, between the San Fernando and the Conejo Valleys since the Spanish El Camino Real era.
In terms of cultural heritage, the Santa Monica Mountains boast a rich history of continuous human occupation dating back more than 10,000 years and contain many nationally significant prehistoric and historic sites. In fact, more than 1,000 archaeological sites are located within the boundary of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area making it one of the highest densities of archaeological resources found in any mountain range in the world. There are twenty-six known Chumash pictograph sites with the national recreation area, all sacred to traditional Native American Indians, and include some that are among the most spectacular found anywhere. These pictographs – along with other sites – have been described by the National Park Service as “unique and a significant world heritage”.
Nearly every major prehistoric and historic theme associated with human interaction and development of the western United States is represented within the park from the early hunters and gathers, to Native American Indian cultures, the Spanish mission and rancho periods, and the American homestead era.
At least 73 archeological sites, historic structures, cultural landscapes, and traditional cultural properties in the Santa Monica Mountains are potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome on the famous Santa Monica Pier, which is within the national recreation area, is a National Historic Landmark, as is Will Rogers' house at Will Rogers State Historic Park (also within the national recreation area). The horsemen portrayed in the Saddle Rock Ranch Pictographs in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains are considered to be a representation of the Portola Expedition of 1769-1770, and have been determined to be eligible as a National Historic Landmark.
A number of California Historical Landmarks also lay within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. These include the Site of the Port of Los Angeles Long Wharf (no. 881), Point Dume (no. 965), and the Adamson House of Malibu Lagoon State Beach (no. 966). Just outside of the national recreation area is the Stagecoach Inn (no. 659) in Newbury Park, Los Encinos State Historic Park (no. 689), and the Old Santa Monica Forestry Station (no. 840).
The Anthony C. Beilenson Interagency Visitor Center at King Gillette Ranch was opened in June 2012, and is operated by four partner agencies: National Park Service, California State Parks, Santa Monica Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. It is located at 26876 Mulholland Highway, Calabasas, CA, 91302.
The Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center is the only site in the National Park Service dedicated to the past, present, and future of all Indian cultures. A Native American guest-host or a park ranger is on hand to answer questions from 9am to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Native American workshops, programs, and art shows occur throughout the year. Satwiwa means "bluff" in the Chumash language and refers to the cliffs of Boney Mountain which can be seen from Satwiwa. The center is located at Rancho Sierra Vista in Newbury Park. Main Entrance cross street is Via Goleta and Potrero Road.
The main headquarters for the park is located at 401 West Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks 91360.
Recreational opportunities abound, including biking, birding, camping, hiking, and horseback riding. The Backbone Trail runs for nearly 70 miles (110 km) across the Santa Monica Mountains between Will Rogers State Park and Point Mugu State Park and is nearly complete from end to end. Channel Islands National Park lies in the Pacific Ocean directly to the west.
Main entrances to the SMMNRA include Malibu, Newbury Park, Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Woodland Hills, and Topanga, California.
The following parks and areas are managed by the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains NRA:
The following California State Parks are located within Santa Monica Mountains NRA:
State Beaches in or adjacent to Santa Monica Mountains NRA:
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