Local nonprofit fights to preserve Eagle Rock’s last natural respite

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Author: Sarah Corsa

Stories about the origin of the Eagle Rock neighborhood’s name abound, including theories about the eagle–shaped shadow the rock casts or perhaps an eagle form embedded in the rock. Despite Occidental’s location in the Eagle Rock neighborhood, most students don’t know where our namesake, the mythical Eagle Rock, actually is or whether it exists at all. Little do they know, nestled next to the 134 freeway between Occidental and Pasadena sits not only the infamous rock but also the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail, a hillside carved with switchbacks and dirt paths leading to a garden and reservoir at the crest.

The trail begins in the shadow of the Eagle Rock. From the moment one emerges onto the open trail and begins the hike, vistas of the urban landscape spread out beyond the adjacent brown hills. Downtown Los Angeles sprouts from the smoggy sprawl. The short distance from the dense city is enough to allow for some breathing room. The roar of the freeway is white noise akin to the ocean waves. The top affords panoramic views of the area, including Griffith Park at the edge of a nearby dusty ridge.

Five years ago, this urban respite was scheduled to be demolished and built up with hotels. The Collaborative Eagle Rock Beautiful (CERB), a local, volunteer-run nonprofit, bought the four and a half acres of land with intentions of creating a community hiking trail out of the remaining vestige of natural space within Eagle Rock.

“This is the last bastion of open land before you get to the historic Eagle Rock, which is the oldest natural icon in all of L.A.,” CERB board member Cherryl Weaver said. “We [bought the land] to give back to the community, protect open space and protect the native vegetation that’s up there.”

About five volunteers and Boy Scout troop 188 finished constructing the mile–long loop trail a year sooner than the established two year timeline. The trail officially opened in March 2008.

CERB began in 2001 as a modest effort by residents to improve the local neighborhood. The goal was twofold: beautify the neighborhood while bringing various local organizations together, particularly youth groups.

The first project grew from founder John Stillion’s observation and subsequent dismay that all the medians were covered in asphalt. Now, one of CERB’s main projects is maintaining the potted plants along Eagle Rock Boulevard that need to be replaced every five to six years. In conjunction with this project, CERB cleans the streets, particularly Colorado Boulevard.

The second project is maintaining the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail. The organization also responds to requests from local groups, such as churches or libraries, for beautification of their grounds.

Current CERB president Carmen Castillo became involved after moving to the Eagle Rock neighborhood in 2004. While the neighborhood has changed since then, so has CERB.

“It’s been this grassroots thing that just kind of evolved,” Castillo said.

CERB hosted students for Occidental’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in 2012 and 2013, working on the medians along Eagle Rock Boulevard and on the hiking trail respectively.

CERB hosts volunteer projects open to the entire community on the fourth Saturday of every month at either the trail or boulevard location. In September, the monthly beautification project brought volunteers together to maintain the hiking trail. Keeping with the goal to collaborate with local organizations, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of troop 199 helped with the day’s tasks.

Sprinkled along the hillside were clusters of energetic young boys and CERB members. Some traversed the path to the top hauling buckets of cement in the increasingly hot day. A group scurried around the peak of the hill raking and cultivating the small plots of land. The largest group worked at the base clearing brush that posed a fire hazard. Scout Master Paul Benavidez worked alongside the boys.

“We did the trees up and down York Boulevard two years in a row,” Benavidez said. “We try to put in whatever time that we can.”

As Boy Scouts or Cub Scouts, they are required to do varying levels of community service to advance up the ranks.

Also volunteering on Saturday was Mary Gray Konrad, a first time CERB volunteer unaffiliated with any organization. Konrad rounds out the scope of volunteers. She has lived in Eagle Rock for 48 years and in the same house for 42. She raised her children here and has seen her grandchildren and great–grandchild born. On top of life’s trials and travails, she underwent a liver transplant over two decades ago.

“They said if you get through the first year you might have five more, and here I am 26 years later,” Konrad said. “I’m ever so happy to be out for the first time helping.”

Konrad hiked the trail to the top, raking alongside the spritely Boy Scouts. This Saturday in September exemplified the “collaborate” in CERB’s name, bringing together organizations and generations. The scene would be completely different if clusters of hotels populated the area instead, and it is not hard to imagine. It’s an image replicated throughout Los Angeles where natural space is a distant memory and urban development reigns.

The organization’s endeavor to build the trail continues as a community effort to pay off the remaining balance CERB owes through fundraising events. The organization has put on a range of programming to this end, including comedy nights and moving showings. A committed neighborhood deemed the Eagle Rock Canyon Trail, with its serenity and openness, more valuable than another block of businesses, something the Occidental community can now benefit from and promote.

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