NPS seeks to allay concerns with Solstice Canyon June opening

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Park Service officials deny that extensive restructuring of Solstice Creek and uprooting of trees have occured

during renovation of visitor-serving facilities in the park.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

After many months of delays and anticipation, Solstice Canyon opened to the public on Sunday under the helm of the National Park Service. Construction equipment and trucks have come and gone, and the first glimpse of a finished product was available last weekend.

There has been much eagerness as well as debate recently over exactly what the National Park Service (NPS) is doing in the Santa Monica Mountains. Last week, the NPS was working diligently to erect a new gate at the mouth of the canyon, remove construction vehicles and tidy up nearly a year’s worth of work to the park.

“A lot of the concern with what’s going on in Solstice Canyon is because there have been other projects proposed in the area,” said Charles Taylor, external affairs chief of the NPS. “We haven’t been sneaky about anything. We haven’t done anything that bad.”

Some have said that extensive, disruptive work has been taking place, including the uprooting of trees, alteration of the creek and structures built right next to the creek, during the NPS’s renovation of the area.

Taylor addressed local concerns while on a walking tour of the park saying once people are allowed back in the park, they will see exactly what took place.

“When folks see those big trucks they don’t know what’s going on,” Taylor said. “It’s been hard because we’ve had to keep the place closed.”

Taylor said the trucks and equipment are necessary tools for repaving the road and adding materials that will expand and make level the original parking lot that was on the property. Additionally, there are four restrooms, a pay telephone, an open-air gathering area for school groups and an amphitheatre that have been constructed adjacent to Solstice Creek.

Taylor said, contrary to rumor, they removed only two trees and replanted numerous trees in the edge of the road that were native to the area. He said the creek had not been altered and would have been too expensive to do so.

“Congress has rules about what you can use their money for,” Taylor said. “There are some non-native trees that we would have taken out and replaced with other trees, but those all grow further up in the hills.”

Some public concern has centered on a double standard for the NPS and the general public in relation to a mandatory setback from the creek where no one is allowed to build.

“We stood on the point that people are concerned about,” said Taylor, referring to the education shelter. “The reason it’s not set back is because it’s not a building that people live in. That’s the difference. It’s an education shelter designed so kids can get up to the creek without falling.”

Taylor said people may see the roof of the building from the air and not know what the building is and it has made for anxiety about what they are constructing.

The shelter has three open walls and one wall that is used for storing benches and chairs for educational forums. It overlooks the bank of Solstice Creek and is adjacent to an open-air amphitheatre by the creek. Taylor said this type of construction is common and is similar to structures on other NPS properties around the country.

The restrooms were constructed on the edge of the road so as not to remove trees, and very little has been altered further up the canyon other than the original parking lot, according to the Park Service.

There is, however, a large clearing further up the canyon that was stripped and flattened out. The NPS said it was a staging area for the construction equipment and would soon be replanted with grass.

The NPS reiterated the three goals for Solstice Canyon, saying that it ought to rehabilitate existing facilities to make them safe, enhance visitor amenities such as restrooms and phones, and prepare the creek for the reintroduction of steelhead trout.

Despite a number of delays, including rains and the discovery of human remains earlier this year, Solstice Canyon opened to the public on June 1 and an official dedication will take place on the Eve of the Solstice, June 20.