The Chatsworth Nature Preserve will be open on Sunday, the only day of the year the public can visit.
And with the coming of Earth Day the Los Angeles City Council has approved a complicated deal to transfer 44 acres of the open space at the Preserve from the Department of Water and Power (DWP) to the Department of Recreation and Parks to be preserved as a natural wetlands in perpetuity. Almost 100 additional acres of the former reservoir site will be included as a buffer and potential passive parkland.
Two docent-led tours will be available in a small portion of the site, which is roughly between Plummer and Roscoe Boulevards and between Valley Circle and Topanga Canyon Boulevards. The tours usually include Ecology Lake and native plants and birds that inhabit the area.
Events will begin at 10:30 a.m. with a Chumash Ceremonial Circle led by a tribal elder who will perform a sage blessing and tell the history and traditions of the tribe. Councilman Greig Smith and Councilman-elect Mitch Englander are scheduled to attend and speak on the importance of environmentalism and wetlands restoration.
Visitors can park along Valley Circle Boulevard near the Plummer Street gate, 23234 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. To see a map, click here. No cars, bikes or pets are permitted into the Preserve. Wear good walking shoes when you hike in. Bring a sun hat, sunscreen, a camera, and your own water. You can pack a picnic lunch and carry a blanket, but the Sierra Club cautions that everything brought in, must be carried out. And, of course, there is no smoking.
Dr. Rosemarie White of the Sierra Club says, "Take only memories, leave only footprints."
The reservoir opened in 1919 to provide irrigation water for what was then the largely agricultural West Valley. In 1969, DWP drained the reservoir for an enlargement project, but the basin was damaged in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and never refilled.
Many people driving along Valley Circle Boulevard today don’t realize that the vast open property to the east behind a locked fence is a nature preserve. The large old dam remains in the southern portion. Last year, the Los Angeles City Fire Department installed an emergency landing area where their helicopters can refill water tanks to fight wild fires. The landing pad is on a flat area just north of an office complex at Roscoe Boulevard and Fallbrook Avenue in West Hills, near the city’s 911 call center.
The City Council voted unanimously on March 29 to accept the plan that was arranged as mitigation for property destroyed a few years ago in an expansion of Sunshine Canyon Landfill, which is near Granada Hills and Sylmar. Councilman Smith, who represents Chatsworth, and Councilman-elect Englander negotiated the deal with previous landfill owner BFI and current owner Republic Services Inc. There were no suitable wetlands near the landfill, so the Chatsworth site was chosen because it is within the same City Council District.
Englander said that a conservation easement required by both the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Fish and Game will protect the biological resources at the site in perpetuity. Although DWP is allowed to sell surplus property, the City Charter precludes Recreation and Parks from ever selling parkland. Englander has said that he hopes the entire 1,300-acre site will eventually be transferred to Recreation and Parks.
The deal approved Tuesday calls for Republic to restore and expand wetlands habitat below the confluence of Woolsley Canyon and Box Canyon creeks, removing 500 feet of concrete channel built for the reservoir. Non-native plants would be replaced with native species.
According to the San Fernando Audubon Society, the Chatsworth Nature Preserve supports “a wealth of wildlife, including a number of species not seen elsewhere in the San Fernando Valley. Among these are mule deer, bobcat, gray fox and mountain lion, as well as numerous species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants for which it is better known.”
“The existing wildlife habitat functions include relatively open foraging area needed by many species of raptors, which are recognized as Species of Special Concern, by the California Department of Fish and Game. These include Red-tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawks, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, White-tailed Kites, Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and American Kestrels. Owls undoubtedly use the area as well,” according to the Society's website.
The Audubon Society has conducted an annual Christmas bird count that has been used as a monitoring tool by scientists for many years. Other groups have monitored migration of Canada geese at the site, which is the only nature preserve in the City of Los Angeles.
The name was changed to Chatsworth Nature Preserve/Reservoir in early 1997 to emphasize the area’s value as a wildlife refuge, according to former City Councilman Hal Bernson.
But it was another two years before Bernson reached an agreement with then-DWP board President Rick Caruso to preserve the property as open space. In a March 1999 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bernson recalled the modern concrete-lined basin as the spot where the Chumash long ago baked bricks in handmade kilns. "It is indeed what the city and the San Fernando Valley looked like 200 years ago," he said.
Over the years, there were many proposals to develop the site, including as a golf course, athletic fields, retail and a massive housing development. Bernson fought for two decades to preserve the property, which he said was the largest undeveloped tract remaining in the city.
According to City Council documents, the Army Corps of Engineers and state Fish and Game in 2006 approved the final wetland and riparian mitigation plan submitted by Republic Services. Those agencies had required the mitigation when they approved permits for expansion of the landfill. The plan will be implemented by Allied Remediation Services Inc., a subsidiary of Republic.
The Fiscal Impact Statement submitted to the City Council calls for Allied to pay the city $1 million, which will be divided between DWP as payment for the wetlands and Recreation and Parks as an endowment for ongoing maintenance. Interest from the $460,000 payment to Recreation and Parks will be used to pay the estimated $15,000 annual upkeep. The agreement also calls for a 5-year monitoring period and acceptance of the mitigation project.
For more information on visiting the Nature Preserve, call Dr. Rosemarie White at 818-383-7635.