Treasures of the Valley » Mike lawler

Our Very Active Deukmejian Wilderness Park

Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
Mike Lawler is the former president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at

Last weekend my wife and I had the pleasure of attending one of the regular themed lectures/hikes at Deukmejian Wilderness Park. The park has informational talks in the Trails and Open Space building, followed immediately by a short hike in the park to see first-hand what we’ve just learned. A sample of some of the recent lecture/hikes includes a talk on the birds that live locally, after which the group took to the trails to ID the birds we had just heard about. The leader of the hike used his smart phone to play pre-recorded bird calls, which were answered by the wild birds.

A geology lecture/hike showed us the stark evidence in the park of the massive floods that have regularly swept down Dunsmore Canyon, and we had pointed out to us a place in the park where we could very visibly see the earthquake fault that cuts along our valley.

An upcoming lecture/hike will be by a professor of pharmacology who will show us the medicinal herbs growing in the park that our local Indians used. He’ll teach that the chemicals in plants utilized by the Indians are the very same chemicals used in modern medicines.

This particular lecture/hike was on the history of winemaking in the Crescenta Valley put on by my good friend Stuart Byles. Byles is the VP of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and the leader of the Stone Barn Vineyard Conservancy, which is making wine from the grapes grown in the vineyard at Deukmejian Park. He gave us an overview of winemaking in early California, from the Spanish Missions to the first private vineyard in California – Don Jose Verdugo’s vineyard in South Glendale. Then on to the French, Germans and Italians who in the 1800s brought their winemaking traditions to Los Angeles, making L.A. the wine-producing capital of the nation. Those same French, Germans and Italians were drawn to the Crescenta Valley, with its rocky soil and Mediterranean climate, perfect for grape production. Byles showed photos of the valley from the teens into the ’40s, showing vast vineyards everywhere in La Crescenta, Montrose, La Cañada, and on either side of Foothill Boulevard into Tujunga.

Our hiking portion of the lecture took us to the century-old stone barn, once the center of the Le Mesnager family’s vast vineyards and now the centerpiece of the park. We were allowed to look inside the barn and see the ongoing work by the city to turn it into an interpretive center and meeting place. The seismic retrofit has been completed, all paid for with grants obtained by the Community Services & Parks Dept., so that the unreinforced stone building is now earthquake safe. We found out that the money to pay for the interior renovations is now in place and that someday soon the barn will be opened to the community. We finished up in the vineyard, where we learned that every year local volunteers tend the vines, harvest the grapes, hand-crush them and produce wine under the guidance of the Stone Barn Vineyard Conservancy.

Walking back to our car, we saw other volunteers carrying water to the hundreds of trees that have been planted since the Station Fire, ensuring Dunsmore Canyon will soon be shady and green. The park sponsors a monthly workday (usually on the third Saturday) when volunteers can help improve the park. It’s a regular event for local Scout troops and high schoolers looking for community service hours, and a great place to meet new people. As well, the park has a trail maintenance crew and a volunteer safety patrol.

New to the park this year is the addition of a “camp host” similar to what we see in our national parks. They’ll be at the park 24/7 to provide security, maintenance and handling park reservations. Miles of trails bring hikers, and hidden grassy terraces provide picnickers with million dollar views of Los Angeles and the sea beyond.

If you’re interested in volunteering, or being on the mailing list for future activities at the park, contact Trails and Open Space coordinator Marc Stirdivant at (818) 550-4405 or