In a kind-of-big-deal-news-for-hikers story, the Pasadena Star-Newsis reporting that Caltrans is starting a process that would rebuild and reopen a portion of CA-39 that’s been closed for 30 years.

CA-39 is a road you probably haven’t driven very far on. It doesn’t even show up on Google Maps until you’re almost at street view — but it used to be an important north-south route into the Angeles National Forest, traveling from Azusa up the North Fork of the San Gabriel River, skirting big peaks like Mount Islip and South Mount Hawkins before meandering to Crystal Lake Campground and meeting up with the Angeles Crest Highway at Islip Saddle.

The four mile stretch of road south of the Saddle has been closed since ’78, due to fires, mudslides, and erosion, and the area from Crystal Lake down to the East Fork since the 2002 Curve Fire, so I’ve never even set tire on the road yet — and have only seen it from a distance on Kratka Ridge.

The whole area’s kind of a no-cars-land, actually, with the Angeles Crest closed from Islip Saddle to Vincent Gap for 4 years due to landslides, washouts, and an endangered frog (although it’s rumored to reopen this spring).

Now, all of a sudden, Caltrans is investigating the environmental impact of opening the entire road up again, mainly to make it easier for fire departments and rescue crews to access the deeper reaches of the San Gabriels. Opponents are saying an active road in the area would be dangerous to the region’s population of Bighorn Sheep.

… and so begins the Nature Lovers’ Dilemma. Making access easier into the mountains is great — and I sure would like to be able to get into Crystal Lake to tackle Mount Islip instead of having to park on the Angeles Crest and walk along the pavement for a few miles … but that area of the Forest has been so quiet for so long, I’d hate to see it overrun like Runyon, Switzer’s, or Santa Anita Canyon just because it’s become easy to get to. Or, as Edward Abbey warned:

“The fat pink slobs who go roaring over the landscape in these over-sized over-priced over-advertised mechanical mastodons are people too lazy to walk, too ignorant to saddle a horse, too cheap and clumsy to paddle a canoe. Like cattle or sheep, they travel in herds, scared to death of going anywhere alone, and they leave their sign and spoor all over the back country: Coors beer cans, Styrofoam cups, plastic spoons, balls of Kleenex, wads of toilet paper, spent cartridge shells, crushed gopher snakes, smashed sagebrush, broken trees, dead chipmunks, wounded deer, eroded trails, bullet-riddled petroglyphs, spray-painted signatures, vandalized Indian ruins, fouled-up waterholes, polluted springs and smoldering campfires piled with incombustible tinfoil, filter tips, broken bottles. Etc.”

So we know where the Desert Anarchist would probably stand. What about you? Should the 39 be open only to emergency vehicles past Crystal Lake? Or does the prospect of a shorter drive to the trailhead entice your more?

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