Human remains, rain delay opening of Solstice Canyon

A June 1 opening is expected. Meanwhile, work continues on construction in the park to the consternation of some residents.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

The month of April has come and gone and Solstice Canyon is still closed. The National Park Service (NPS) had a target date of last month to be finished with the project and open it to the public, but a number of setbacks have forced the delay.

Among the obstacles the NPS had to contend with was the discovery of human remains on the property. Construction crews were digging a utility trench and discovered a grave. Work ceased and the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office was called in to investigate. The initial report deemed the finding a burial site of one Chumash Indian. Later, Dr. Phil Walker of U.C. Santa Barbara confirmed that the bones were almost certainly Native American and probably around 200 years old.

“One thing that is important to know is that the Chumash can trace their descendants to the mouth of the canyon,” said Phil Holmes, a cultural anthropologist with the National Park Service. “[After the discovery], we then entered into negotiations with the Chumash.”

Holmes said the park service has a plan of action in place in the event of such a discovery. The remains were removed with the consent of the Chumash and the rest of the area was dug by hand.


“There are multiple aspects to this project,” Holmes said. “Over the course of the project there have been a number of unanticipated discoveries.”

NPS representatives cited an unseasonable amount of rain and archeological finds as the major factors halting the completion.

The final plan for the park calls for an improvement in the road surface, which was first graded in 1894 and in dire need of work according to one spokesperson. On one section of road there was 15 feet of erosion, and a concrete stabilization system was created. Other tasks included expanding the existing parking lot, building a covered shelter in case of rain, constructing a gathering area for educational programs and constructing permanent restrooms. Additionally, water, electric and telephone utilities were put underground for aesthetics and fire hazard purposes.

The NPS has also seen a lot of controversy surrounding the efforts to bring back steelhead trout. “We started a process to rehabilitate Solstice Creek for the possible reintroduction of the steelhead,” said Charles Taylor of the NPS.

An “Arizona crossing,” or bridge, was constructed so the freshwater-born trout can swim to the ocean and return to Solstice to spawn. There are conflicting reports on the number of steelhead in the area and the last time they were able to successfully maneuver the creek. The NPS says the trout were there at least until 1947, when the culvert under the Pacific Coast Highway was altered and made it difficult for the fish to swim through.

Malibu native Lisa Roberts who was raised in Solstice Canyon (formerly known as Roberts Ranch), said the trout were there in 1982, prior to a big fire followed by torrential rains that drastically changed the creek bed.

“My grandfather spent an inordinate amount of time on the creek trying to preserve the trout,” Roberts said. “If he hadn’t done what he did, the community and nation wouldn’t have [Solstice Canyon] today.”

But critics say it is a waste of time and money to try and reintroduce trout to an area that might not have been abundant with the trout in the first place. Ronald L. Rindge, descendant of the Malibu Rindge family, states in a April 2003 letter to the editor that, prior to World War II, “California Fish and Game planted hundreds of thousands of steelhead trout in coastal streams of Southern California all the way to San Diego County.”

“If these game fish were abundantly present in these streams as claimed by the ‘pro-steelhead trout at any cost’ groups, why was it necessary to plant them at all?”

Rindge said, in a phone interview, he researched the above from California Fish and Game biannual reports.

The steelhead trout have garnered national attention as well. Environmental advocate Robert Kennedy, Jr., at a recent lecture in Thousand Oaks, briefly touched on local issues.

“When we destroy the headwaters of Malibu Creek we impose on our children things that we don’t have the right to,” Kennedy said. “If, indeed, they exist, we will work to reintroduce southern steelhead trout to the area.”

Another concern for some local residents was the removal of trees during construction. “We did have to remove two trees,” Taylor said. “We routed the road so we didn’t have to take down trees. We even routed the parking lot so that it affected as few trees as possible.”

An effort has been made to replant native vegetation in the area, and erosion control netting was put in place on the hillside to prevent an adverse effect on the restoration, according to the park service.

An NPS spokesperson said that running heavy equipment over the roads during construction was also a concern because it pushed substance into the creek, but the stream had hardly been altered.

“Our plan was as soon as it was ready and safe, to open it to the public,” Taylor said. The NPS is tentatively planning a June 1 opening and a dedication to follow later in the summer.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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