By Brandon HENSLEY
The sign in front of the entrance on Markridge Road read, “Park Closed.” Except on this day, taped over the second word, there was a highlighter-green paper that read “Open.”
And with that, the patchwork sign led up the long windy road to a place that’s also being put back together, slowly but surely.
After nine months of assessment and restoration, Deukmejian Wilderness Park re-opened to the public last Saturday, a day-long celebration that represented another piece of the Valley’s return-to-normalcy puzzle.
“This is a great day for us. This is a great day for the community,” said Dave Ahearn, manager of the Park Design and Development Section for the city of Glendale.
The 710-acre park was devastated by last summer’s Station Fire, and to be sure, only 10 to 15 acres will be available to the public for a while. On the drive up to the park, mountains of dirt could be seen on both sides, with numerous backhoes roaming over the piles.
The surviving areas however, looked pristine, with clean facilities, picnic areas, and freshly cut grass, good enough for people and their dogs to sit on and enjoy the afternoon.
Next to the parking lot, there were booths from the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley, with photos of the destruction during the Station Fire during and after. Booths from the Community Services Parks and Development were also present. Volunteers were active throughout the day, including helping with a rock climbing station, which was enjoyed by both kids and parents.
Re-opening ceremonies kicked off at 10 a.m. After that there was a talk on how Native Americans used fire to manage the land, and at noon there was a hike to witness the post-fire recovery. At night, families could take their chairs and blankets and watch “Rancho La Cañada,” a film on the history of the valley from its beginnings in the 1800s.
Jo Anne Sadler, a researcher for the Historical Society, also gave a talk on a prominent figure to the property, George LeMesnager. LeMesnager used the property as a vineyard after buying it from Crescenta Valley founder Benjamin Briggs in 1885. LeMesnager owned several wineries where downtown Los Angeles is, some of them run illegally at times.
But Sadler said son Luis was more important to the Deukmejian property because he lived there for over 30 years, and rebuilt the place after the 1933 fire. The original roof of the stone barn was a peaked roof, and after the fire, Luis built the more circular-shaped one that is seen today.
Luis was more important, “Because he could have walked away after the fire, but he rebuilt it. He kept it going through prohibition, [when] most wineries went out of business,” said Sadler, who spent two weeks researching for this event. The area became a park in the 1980s, and Sadler noted that it would look very different if it wasn’t for Luis.
“If he had just thrown up his hands and walked away, this would be all housing tracks,” she said.
The barn itself will have to undergo a seismic upgrade, and after that, Ahearn said it will become a nature center.
Ahearn said there were thoughts of hydroseeding the area after the fire, but the city decided to do nothing with the hillside because of the steepness of the slopes, and instead focused on mitigation down below. There was some flooding during the rain season, but not enough for major damage, and Ahearn said the rain helped the area.
“We’re at a point where the park has recovered beautifully. It still has a long way to go. Of course, it’s going to be a three-to-five-year recovery,” he said.
The city still needs to finish its assessment of the park, including erosion control and restoring native plants.
Residents though, are happy to come back to something, anything. Park closures are so last summer. It’s a season of change.
“This is great to come back up here, and it’s just right in our backyard, to be able to get up and walk a few miles,” said resident Bill Shively, who took his family hiking. “We’ve only walked this maybe six or seven times, and each time we try to get farther to the back, so we’re still exploring.”