Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Your Big Backyard

One of my favorite hikes with little kids is the Switzer trail in the Angeles National Forest. It’s easily accessible off the Angeles Crest Highway. We still haven’t made it to the waterfall, even though it’s an easy four mile roundtrip. (As I’ve said, everything takes longer with a toddler.) This trail hugs a stream and is shaded by alder trees. Even with other folks on the trail, you’ll feel serene. You will have to cross the stream a c
ouple times, but it should be easy most of the year. (Be aware that in the winter streams in the forest can be more difficult to cross.) Much of the trail is flat, thus fairly easy for little kids to ramble along. You could explore the first half mile or so with a jogger, but you’ll need to carry a little kid to go farther. (We use a Kelty Kids pathfinder). The trail is fairly popular, but not as crowded as other easily accessible sites, especially on weekdays.

Because of the elevation, this trail is (blessedly) cooler than the valleys below. Late fall through early spring, be prepared with an extra layer. There are picnic tables at the trail head, and some stinky pit toilets.

Switzer Trail
Angeles National Forest
Take the 2 Freeway from La Canada, up into the forest. If you don’t already have a day or annual pass, stop at the ranger station and buy one ($5, $30). You can also buy passes online or at some outdoor stores. Note: although this particular ranger station is usually staffed, not all stations are, especially on weekdays.

At the ranger station, you can also ask about a trail map. The trail head is 10.5 miles from La Canada. It’s on the right side, marked “Switzer picnic area.” Yes, there is parking up at the top, but it’s a long walk down, so drive down the road for a closer spot.

Note: unless I know exactly where I’m going, I always bring a trail map and/or guidebook on hikes. One place to get them is your local outdoor store, such as REI.

Recommended reading: Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels by John W. Robinson.

Nature Guide to the Mountains of Southern California by Bill Havert and Gary Gray.
Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad. This is my favorite s
ingle-volume hiking guide for the greater LA area.

We’re fortunate to be able to take our child to many parks and other natural areas. But many kids in southern California don’t have the same opportunity. Here’s (a transcript of) my radio story about southern California kids with No Place to Play:

It’s all too apparent that obesity is one of the biggest health problems for California children. Here’s confirmation from a UCLA study: One child out of every four in the state doesn’t get the recommended amount of physical activity. So it seems many kids need to get off their keisters … and get into parks and playgrounds. But for many, it might not be laziness, but rather there’s simply … no place to play. KPCC’s Ilsa Setziol has the story.

(Soccer game and freeway sound up)
It’s dinnertime on a cool evening in Glassell Park. A bunch of 12-year-olds are practicing soccer on a field at Irving Washington Middle School, next to the 2 Freeway. Along the sideline, some older boys kick around a ball, which eventually sails into the game.

RAUL MACIAS: EH! Muchachos! No … (English VO: hey, boys! You can’t go in there.)

SETZIOL: One of the older boys - Gomecindo Macedo - says they were just trying to sneak in a little practice.

MACEDO: This league needs more parks for teams to practice and pla
y, like my team … we don’t practice because we don’t have a place to practice.

SETZIOL: Macedo is a member of the Anahuak Youth Soccer Association, which sponsors 110 soccer teams in northeast LA. Raul Macias founded the association to help kids get exercise, stay out of gangs, and become better citizens.

MACIAS: Most of the fields is very far … and most of the families are very low income, they don’t have cars, and to organize football clubs, soccer leagues is too expensive.

SETZIOL: Short on places to play, Macias, his kids and their parents pressured politicians … and won a new state park in nearby Cypress Park. They also pushed school and state officials to build this field, and keep it open after school.

The Anahuak kids aren’t alone in needing places to play. A recent UCLA survey found a quarter of teens in California say they don’t have a safe park in walking distance of their homes. Urban kids without access to safe parks were the most likely to report getting no physical activity-less than 10 minutes total--in a given week: 14% of them said they got no exercise.

ROBERT GARCIA: LA is park poor. We have fewer parks than other major cities.

SETZIOL: Robert Garcia of the Center for Law in the Public Interest.

GARCIA: Children of color living in poverty with no access to a car have the worst access to parks and recreation. And in a cruel irony, disproportionately white affluent people with fewer children than the county average have the best access to parks and recreation. So the people who need the most have the least.

SETZIOL: The Center for Law in the Public Interest compared park acrea
ge per person in LA County assembly districts. It found a third of an acre per thousand residents in South Central LA, compared with 16 acres per thousand people in parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Growing awareness of the problem has helped bring park bond money into LA County. Since its founding six years ago, the local Rivers and Mountains Conservancy has tapped 60 million dollars to upgrade existing parks and create new ones, including Lashbrook Park in El Monte.

On a recent morning, eight El Monte mothers stroll among young oak trees on the 2-acre site. They point out things they like to Irma Munoz of the non-profit Amigos de Los Rios.
MUNOZ: They really love the trees. They love the fact it uses native plants. They like the shade, the walking path.

SETZIOL: Amigos designed this park, and is helping the mothers plan one in their El Monte neighborhood. The mothers say they only have one tiny minipark … and it’s been taken over by gangs and drunks. The school playground is closed after school. Also, says Maria Valdez, many of the kids can’t play around their homes:

VALDEZ: They live in apartments. In the apartments, they don’t let them go out and play … some of the managers don’t want them to touch the walls.

So the kids wrote letters to the city asking for a park. And El Monte purchased an abandoned industrial site. Irma Munoz says Amigos asked the kids what they wanted in a park.

MUNOZ: And all of them drew little houses for the birds. They want a place for birds and butterflies and squirrels to be safe.

SETZIOL: Parks not only help kids stay fit physically, but a growing body of research shows they can help kids mentally. One study found daycare kids who played outside everyday were more able to concentrate than kids that didn’t. Another concluded access to green, outdoor spaces relieved symptoms of attention deficit disorder.

El Monte still needs to raise the money to build the mother’s park, and state bond money is starting to dry up. But Irma Munoz of Amigos de Los Rios says they hope to keep the costs down by using community volunteers. The mothers, including Francisca Morales, say they’ll plant trees, paint … and patrol the park.

(Spanish starts then Irma’s translation over)

MUNOZ: She will take joy and pleasure in seeing her children and grandchildren play outside of their homes because they’ve been locked up inside of their homes. They want them to be out playing and enjoying the fresh air.

In El Monte, Ilsa Setziol, 89.3, KPCC

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