City’s Trails: Beautiful, Safe, Free .. and Calling You

Photos by Summy Lam, Club Director of Marketing;
and courtesy JuanCarlos Chan/City of Los Angeles
Dept. of Recreation and Parks

Missing your workout? City hiking trails are ready
to welcome you back, safely. Get moving!

Are you missing your workouts? Rec and Parks has a hiking trail just for you. They’re outdoor, most have plenty of room, there are trails for all experience levels, including beginner … and there are more than 400 of them, in all corners of the City.

The trails – which range from easy strolls under tree groves in Orcutt Ranch to those scaling the highest points in LA in Griffith Park – could be just the motivator you need for your peace of mind and body.

Trails were part of the earliest City parks, according to Ranger Sgt. Gary Menjuga, Club Member. The City would designate land for park use, and citizens would explore the park, following trails made by wildlife or create their own paths. By the 1930s, the City hired the same Works Progress Administration construction crews the United States was using to create roads and other projects, to employ dynamite and create trails in Griffith Park. That’s according to Ranger Tom Mendibles, unofficial Rec and Parks historian and Club Member.

The trails are here for you to enjoy. Take advantage! This month’s feature can help you get going.

Runyon Canyon Park
At the Charlie Turner Trailhead for the beginning of the popular Mt. Hollywood Trail in Griffith Park, from left: Park Ranger Sonya Sharp, 9 years of City service; Park Ranger Joseph Fuentes, 9 years; Park Ranger Bradley Rice, 4 years; and Park Ranger Sgt. I Gary Menjuga, 8 years. All are Club Members.

Trail Guide

Zooming with Alive! from the Park Ranger Station in Griffith Park were (from left) Park Ranger Sgt. I Gary Menjuga and Park Ranger Bradley Rice.

On Wednesday, July 7, Club COO Robert Larios and Alive! editor John Burnes interviewed Park Ranger Sgt. Gary Menjuga, 8 years of City service; and Ranger Bradley Rice, 4 years, Club Member. The subject: the City’s recreational trails. The Rangers were in the Ranger Station in Griffith Park; the interview took place over Zoom.

Alive!: Hi Sgt. Menjuga and Ranger Rice. Thanks for joining us today. I know over the holiday you were dealing with small brush fires and their aftermath. I hope today was better.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: That’s an almost everyday thing, but today, we’ve been brushfire free.

That’s good to hear. What did you do before you became Park Rangers?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: I had another career in law enforcement working for the Los Angeles School Police Dept.

Ranger Bradley Rice: I come from an EMS background. For about five years I did 911 calls with an ambulance company in Los Angeles County, in areas like Inglewood, Lynwood, and all the way out to Calabasas, in different unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. A lot of that experience translates into what we do here.

What are your job responsibilities as Rangers?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: We wear a lot of hats, and that alone can be an entire interview. As my title is supervision, I oversee an entire region, the Valley Region of Los Angeles City and the parks that fall within it. My day pretty much consists of supervision over Park Rangers, our Security Officers, scheduling, payroll, patrol and responding to calls, fires and deploying certain tasks that we have throughout the City. I also oversee the interpretive walks and hikes for the public, like the Sunset Walks from the Observatory that you’ve featured in Alive!

Alive! featured Rec and Parks’ Sunset Walks in August 2015.

Rec and Parks hopes to restart Sunset Walks, featured in the August 2015 Alive!, and other guided hikes soon. They have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Those obviously are pre-COVID. We haven’t rescheduled those yet. There are a lot of other monthly hikes from Ranger Stations that we have to reschedule, too. It’s so nice when we can interact with people because part of our role is engaging with the public. We hope to revisit that soon.

Ranger Bradley Rice: A fair amount of my responsibility is safety in Griffith Park. I patrol during my whole shift. I’ll drive trails and the roads, and address anything that I see that’s going on that day, whether it’s violations, medical calls, helping people get to where they need to go, answering questions, that kind of thing day to day. While that’s going on, we have our emergency calls that we respond to, whether they’re EMS or fire related. Sometimes, we have interpretation events going on with the kids or adults.

Do you patrol on horseback?

Ranger Bradley Rice: No. I patrol in a vehicle. I have a unique vehicle to patrol in, basically a Type 6-type of fire engine. It’s ready for fires, but it’s also my patrol vehicle, as well. It works out well for the narrow trails that we have here at Griffith Park.

Hiking Experts

Do you consider yourself hikers?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: Absolutely. It’s part of our job description, whether we enjoy it or not!

Funny you ask. Just yesterday we had a follow-up on a fire that happened off of Topanga Canyon near Stoney Point at a park out there called Chatsworth North. Overnight there was a fire, and we followed up on it, but it took us about an hour and half of hiking to find it. We couldn’t tell what the original cause was. There are a lot of places that vehicles can’t go that we’re responsible for.

I have some friends of mine who want to come to where we work and say, “Hey, let’s go hiking.” I’m like, “Well, I just hiked the whole park yesterday on a hiker rescue we.” It’s not a no. I get it, but I’m not going to ask my accountant friend to go over some numbers on his day off.

Managing During a Pandemic

How have the hiking trails done during the pandemic and the post-pandemic? Were a lot of people using them?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: When the pandemic first started, usage seemed very light. I think people ended up staying home due to being scared of going out and being infected. But slowly, people started realizing that the four walls of their house aren’t as comfortable as being outside. So more people weekly started coming to Griffith Park and coming out to hike.

In the beginning of the pandemic, we would get calls every hour that there was a person not wearing a mask in the park, which was required. You had to wear a mask, and people feared for their health. I don’t know if you’ve been hiking in a mask. I have, and it’s not the most comfortable thing to do, even if it’s a flat trail. So some didn’t wear them. But as time went on, we started seeing more and more people. One of our popular trails in Griffith Park, the Wonder View trail, was closed during the height of the restrictions because it’s a narrow trail where if you were to pass somebody, both of you would have to turn sideways just to pass on the same trail. Because that trail was so narrow, we had to shut down for the entirety of the pandemic.

Rec and Parks did well in identifying those narrow trails and closing them.

For some people there’s been a long layoff from exercise.

Ranger Bradley Rice: It’s not just during COVID. We see a cycle every January 1 when the New Year comes around. We have people who are very motivated to get in shape, which is great. But some think, “I’m going to go out and exercise. I’m going to get in shape.” They start at the trailhead and just start walking. They’re hiking up a six-mile trail to the Hollywood sign when it’s 12 o’clock in the afternoon. It’s 90 degrees out. Sometimes the motivation clouds the judgment as far as how you should be working out.

Preparation is really important to getting in shape because it can be a dangerous situation if you’re out there without any water. It’s hot. We’re always on the lookout for that.

During COVID, people weren’t able to go out, so some were very gung-ho to come back to the park. We received an increase in calls for hiker rescues, and we had to manage it because we needed to protect ourselves from infection. It was a balancing act, and I feel like we did a good job at it.

Trails for Different Levels

As COVID wanes, and we hope it continues to, people need to get out and exercise but might still feel hesitant about being around people. The City’s trails might be a perfect way to do that. Let’s talk generally about the trails program at Rec and Parks with that in mind.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: Sure, but it’s a very broad question. We have so much. The City of Los Angeles is a diverse City, and so are its parks. In 20 minutes or less, you can get to a nice hiking location anywhere in the City generally, but it depends what you’re looking for. Are you looking for flat land? Hills? Hills with a view? Hills where you can just get away without a lot of people? Each region provides its benefit.

Let’s start with the center – Griffith Park itself is massive and also a tourist location. If you’re a local Angeleno and want to go out for a hike, I don’t suggest going near the Hollywood sign or the Griffith Observatory because you’re going to come across people hiking in sandals or people in dress attire because they’re trying to get to the Hollywood sign, and the trails re going to be more crowded. There’s going to be a lot of people lost in that general area. This is kind of on a daily basis where this happens because it’s such a popular location. We highly suggest going around the Griffith Ranger Station on Crystal Springs Drive, which is closer to the 5 Freeway. From there, there are miles and miles of trails that are less populated, or the north end of Griffith Park near our equestrian center.

How many organized trails are in Griffith Park?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: There are 40 trails and 70 miles.

Wow that’s a lot. How about the rest of the City? Is it safe to say there are hundreds of organized hiking or walking trails?

Ranger Bradley Rice: Definitely hundreds of trails from Hansen Dam to the Harbor Region.

A trail in Griffith Park.

Which trails do you recommend to a beginner? Which trails do you recommend to an expert?

Ranger Bradley Rice: One that I always like to recommend is our Old Zoo in Griffith Park. It’s a historical location, and it’s a relatively easy hike. You start at the Fern Canyon Trailhead. You veer to the right to go the Lower Old Zoo Trail. It’s about a mile of walking, and you’ll get to see the old zoo and its old structures. You end in a nice little picnic area. It’s very easy hike and something the whole family can do together and have a nice picnic at the end.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: In regard to the expert hike, that’s more of a planned, multi-trail hike. The steepest hike we have is the Hogback Trail, which takes you up to the Mount Hollywood peak, then into Dante’s View. That would be the middle of the hike for that expert. You’re going to want to start at the base. I would start at the entrance of the Fern Canyon Trailhead, hike up to what we call Five Points, and from there, depending how many miles you want to do, you could take Vista Del Valle during the hotter months because it’ll be well shaded. That’s a nice hike. Then take the North Trail back up to Mount Hollywood peak, down to the Three-Mile Trail. Now you’re getting close to the Observatory side, and from there you could either head down to the Observatory or if the expert wants to keep going, you could keep on hiking to the Hollywood sign. Remember than the Hollywood sign is actually located on Mount Lee, not Mount Hollywood. You can even hike past the Hollywood sign, and there at Cahuenga Peak is the absolute tallest elevation in the city of Los Angeles. From there, you can make your way back, depending where you parked. You can hike here all day.

White Point Nature Preserve

Fantastic. What about the Valley or the Harbor area?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: In that area, White Point is a nature preserve with about three miles’ worth of hiking trails with a great ocean view. From White’s Point, you can hike over to Pt. Fermin and the Korean Bell area. There are lots of hiking trails that overlook the beach there. If you go farther inland from there, we have Harbor Regional by Harbor Community College, for reference.

In the Valley, we mentioned Hansen Dam, which has quite a few trails and the heat of the Valley as well. It’s mostly flat. If you wanted to look for a good hike within the City parks, I would go to O’Melveny Park. That’s off of Sesnon and Balboa, near where the 5 and 14 meet up in the hillside. It’s a very beautiful park, lots of hills. I would say that’s probably a good start for a moderate hiker but not for of a beginner because the hills start right away from the base.

Ranger Bradley Rice: Most of the large parks in the Valley are flat, so they’re going to be relatively beginner hikes. Sepulveda Basin is relatively flat. There’s a series of trails that leads north and south, east and west. Just pick a side and it will take you to a location. There’s a fishing lake there too.

Club CEO John Hawkins and Robert Baker, Park Maintenance Supervisor, at Orcutt Ranch. (Bob retired in May. Congratulations!)

Orcutt Ranch is also really nice, for a stroll as much as a hike.

Ranger Bradley Rice: Yes. It’s really picturesque, a beautiful place. Somewhere to go to have a nice, relaxing time.

One thing I wanted to mention, if you’re planning on doing a large hike, it’s a great idea to visit the Ranger Station. Visit the Ranger Station, talk to a Ranger, talk to somebody about where you’re going. Maybe we can help you assist in a better route. There are people who just start heading out and realize that they’re not on the right path that they wanted to go, and their day is blown. If they just had come to the Ranger Station, we could have got them on the right route and they would have had a better day. We’ll get you on the right track.

Drought

We’re in a drought, sadly. What should people be careful of or treat the earth more carefully when they go on a hike because of that?

Ranger Bradley Rice: Our local hikers are very respective of the areas. In Griffith Park, they come to the area and they feel like it’s their home.

We’re always looking for hikers to give us information so we can preserve the park properly, and take necessary action to prevent large fires like we had in 1933 and 2007. We’re always trying to prevent fires.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: We have wildlife at Griffith Park. Several people call us, saying, “Hey, do the deer, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lion in the park have enough water to drink? We’re in a drought. We’re worried about the wildlife.” They’re concerned for the wildlife, but there’s plenty of water, both natural and in manmade horse troughs, for them to drink. They’re taken care of.

The droughts bring up fire dangers. Those visiting the parks from other states or even other countries never even would have thought that smoking a cigarette and throwing their cigarette on the ground, as they’ve been doing for years, is against the law. We take a proactive approach to prevent something before it happens. We’re not just waiting here with our fire hose to go attack a fire. We explain to people the dangers and address it accordingly.

Fitness Post-Pandemic

How are the hiking trails really important for people at all levels to get exercise?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: They really are, even for those who are lacking motivation. Just to get outside and do something, it is very motivational because every time you go to even the same trail, you’re going to find something different that you didn’t see your first time. Let’s just say someone wants to get back into hiking. They realize they only be able to do a small loop of trail. Griffith Park and most of our parks have forks in the road, where you can turn back or keep going. A park isn’t like a treadmill or running around your block. You can see more every time you come here. That spurs you to go farther. Maybe the next time you can go 30 minutes. Our parks are good for all levels. We’ve seen it. Even if the trail is not challenging enough, there are ways to make it harder for yourself or to boost your level. Regardless where you go, the park is literally your playground, and you can do what you can to boost your level.

Ranger Bradley Rice: Exactly. We never really appreciate what we have until it’s gone. During COVID, that’s what a lot of our patrons were experiencing when they couldn’t use the trails. Their regular exercise routine was gone. When they had the ability to come back and use the trails, they realized how important it was for them personally to get outside and on a very basic level. We want to feel those endorphins running through our body as we exercise, and when that was not available, we really saw how important it was to everybody to be able to come out and exercise and be in open space.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: A lot of people want to hike around the Observatory. Makes sense. People want to park as close to the Observatory as possible. But that defeats the purpose of your hike. If you’re there to exercise, what does it matter if you park 200 feet away from where you want to start? You’re out there to exercise. If you go just 300 or 400 feet down the road and park either near Fern Dell or near the Greek Theatre, you’re going to have free parking, and you’re still going to get your exercise with access to all the trails you want.

Equestrian rentals are available in Hansen Dam and other locations.

Little-Known Gems

What are some of the gems that people might not know about?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: We can’t tell you that. Then everyone’s going to know about it!

Right!

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: Most of our trails, even our smaller parks throughout the City, are well known and posted for you to be able to describe where you are.

But one thing people overlook are the rentals that are offered in most parks. You can rent bikes. There are certain areas where you could actually rent a horse and ride on trails. You can rent picnic areas and have your own private picnic area. Not too many people have ever thought about renting a piece of the park for a day. You don’t have to show up at five in the morning to try to get that spot for mom’s birthday party in the park. You can rent baseball fields and tennis areas. We’d like to see more of that – people enjoying their time here. It’s relatively cheap and well worth it.

Favorites

What are some of your favorite hiking trails?

Ranger Bradley Rice: The Mineral Wells area. You can start on the Mineral Wells Trail and picnic area, and head up to the McComb helispot; go to the Riverside Trail from there and head down to the Greek. It has a good view.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: I have one for every region. In the Harbor area, I like going from White’s Point to Pt. Fermin. The trails up there are not typically crowded. You can go and enjoy yourself.

But my favorite hike is from the Observatory – it goes from below the Observatory to the Observatory up to Mount Hollywood Peak and back. Just like I mentioned, I don’t like to pay for parking. I start down low where there’s plenty of parking. I usually start close to Los Feliz and depending how motivated I am that day, I can keep going or just make my usual round trip and come on back.

Farther north in the Valley, I like Hansen Dam for straight exercise because it is flat. You get your miles in and there’s plenty of parking there any time of day.

Ranger Bradley Rice: At Hansen Dam there’s an overlook off of Slab Road that I’ve run multiple times for exercise, and there are people looking at the sunset with their arms spread wide just enjoying themselves. Once you have finished your run, you get to have this view over of a portion of the Valley. It’s a good spot.

In Griffith Park, my favorite is the summit – the top of Mount Hollywood Peak. That’s a great spot to go.

A Purpose in the City

LA is one of the biggest cities in the world. Why does a big City like LA need strong recreation, including trails?

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: For peace of mind. We’ve talked a lot about physical health, but it’s important for mental health, just getting out and clearing your mental air. Sometimes you just need to get out of the daily grind – the cars, the traffic, the road noise. You do that five days out of the seven days. Why not mix it up with adding a park in there? Mental and physical wellbeing are huge. Dealing with COVID this past year put a huge awakening on that. People need to get out. Having your home as your office, you never left. You need somewhere to go. Places were closed. Parks were the answer. Parks get you going. Parks are where people feel alive, feel free, get out and have a good time, with or without the family. You can have your spot where, “This is where I go for me. When I go hiking with my friends, we’re going to go somewhere else because my time is my time.” You’ve got to have your mental health just as well as your physical health. Both of them need to be working together.

Ranger Bradley Rice: Totally. You hear those coined phrases like “I need to clear my mind. I need to de-stress.” Those are why people go to the park, to get their peace and quiet, their alone time. We’re a huge metropolitan City with a lot going on there, and that creates the stressors. You don’t have that in a park. You can have a different perspective and you have the time to relax and think without the traffic and the noise. I’m a huge proponent of it.

Park Passion

What do you love about what you do?

Ranger Bradley Rice: I’m a helper by nature. I love the opportunity to help the public in many different facets of the job. We wear many different hats. I can help people on a medical call. I can help in a law enforcement scenario because we’re peace officers. I love being able to do that. We get to help preserve parkland by putting out fires and working interagency with the LAFD, LA County and the Forest Service. We get to meet a bunch of different people and have that working relationship. There are just so many facets of the job. The diversity of the job is my favorite.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: It’s a mixture of several things. I really like talking and engaging with people. Working with with the Rangers is not just law enforcement. I talk to adults, children and people from all different types of walks of life. I learn more from other people than I can teach anybody else.

I love engaging in the vast diversity of culture we have in the city of Los Angeles. I’m here at Griffith Park today, but I’m typically assigned to the San Fernando Valley. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be down in the Harbor regional area, based on the need. We cover lots of professions with our title as Park Rangers. I’m a two-year Supervisor now. I see younger Rangers coming in with the eagerness that I had when I was starting off. We are law enforcement Police Officers, but we also have that humanitarian way of talking to people. It’s quite the diverse job, and to tell you if I have one thing I like about would be impossible.

Rangers, thank you for your time.

Sgt. Gary Menjuga: Thank you.

Ranger Bradley Rice: Thank you.


 

BEHIND THE SCENES

Club Director of Marketing Summy Lam (foreground, right) photographs (from left) Ranger Sonya Sharp, Sgt. Gary Menjuga, Ranger Bradley Rice and Ranger Joseph Fuentes on Griffith Park’s West Trail. All four Rangers are Club Members.

 

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