San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Sunday, January 30, 2005 - 8:12:04 PM PST

Touring the damage
Rainstorms wreaked havoc in Anglels National Forest
By Phil Drake , Staff Writer

Hwy 39 Damage
Participants in "Spend a Saturday Morning in the Forest " program walk by a washed out portion of Highway 39 in the Angeles National Forest on Sunday, January 30, 2004. (Staff photo by Bernardo Alps)

Hwy 39 Damage
See photos by Allan Walter:
January 23, 2005

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- Karen Shomber thought she was pretty well prepared for the damage she would see Sunday in the Angeles National Forest.

After all, her grandfather, Clinton Keim, had been a ranger in the forest for nearly 30 years, so she had spent a lot of time in the mountains above Azusa.

But early Sunday afternoon, she stood with her mouth slightly agape at mile marker 33.8 on state Highway 39. Much of the two-lane road was washed away, leaving a tiny sliver of pavement connecting a large gap that eroded into the mountain highway.

"This totally devastates you to think how long it will take to get the road open again,' the 65-year-old Azusa resident said. "How are they going to fix it?'

Shomber was among 20 people attending a U.S. Forest Service tour highlighting damage from the recent storms that felled trees, caused mudslides and left one mountain community stranded.

The Forest Service offers a tour featuring a new topic each month. Previous tours have been to fire areas, former mining towns, or to look at wildflowers. Most tours are on Saturday. This month's was on Sunday because roads leading into the Angeles were closed Saturday, officials said.

Steve Segreto, a forestry technician who leads the tours, wanted to show the public the damage caused by the January storms.

"It took its toll,' he said. "Fire and rain are the facts of life. It's the kind of stuff that happens in the forest. That's nature.'

Tour stops included Coldbrook Canyon, Follows Camp - where residents recently replaced a bridge washed out by the storm, making them prisoners - and Heaton Flats.

Segreto also led about 10 cars up Highway 39, until he had to stop where the road collapsed.

"I don't know what lays ahead,' he joked with the tour before climbing into his truck. "So if you see me disappear, stop.'

At Coldbrook, several trees had fallen. Karen Fortus, a forest resource officer, said the trees had been stressed from the 2002 Curve Fire.

The campground was open in the summer, but closed in the fall. She wasn't sure if the campground would reopen this summer, as forest officials wanted to see what damage rains in February and March would bring.

For many, Highway 39 proved to be the most shocking stop of the day. Large chunks of pavement had fallen, leaving gaping holes in the roadway in a couple spots. Boulders peppered the pavement.

"This is an awesome sight,' said Dick Wagoner, 73, of Hacienda Heights. "We've got a lot of damage here.'

Tiny wagons were parked along one stretch of the road. Fortus said some were from people conducting a logging operation at Crystal Lake at the top of the forest. Food was brought up from the lowlands and transported by the tiny wagons around the washed-out portion of road, and then shuttled to the top of the mountain.

Forest officials said it would be up to the state or the county to repair the roads and would take about eight months to do so. Damage estimates were not immediately available.

But the tour was not all bad news.

Lots of people were out in the East Fork of the San Gabriel River panning for gold. Segreto said the gold washes down from the mountainside naturally and into the stream.

Business was booming Sunday. Allen Urssing, 40, of the San Fernando Valley was among those trying his luck and had his sluice set up. "Now is the time to find the gold,' the electrical contractor said. "Usually it is up in the mountains and too high to get to.'


Phil Drake can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2110, or by e-mail at news.tribune@sgvn.com .

Copyright 2005 San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Los Angeles Newspaper Group