Daniel Rossman was in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument on Tuesday, having trouble finding a trashcan. Specifically, he was looking for dumpsters that artists and volunteers had painted with murals inspired by nature.
Instead of finding artwork, however, he found brand new brown dumpsters, recently purchased and installed by the Forest Service.
For Rossman, despite the loss of the artwork, the new dumpsters were a welcome surprise, one that shows improvement plans for the new monument are underway.
“That says that there’s progress. To be honest, I don’t think that we would’ve had that problem pre-monument. This is just one sort of simple way that the Forest really is putting a high priority on changing the face of the place and really putting an emphasis on visitor services and visitor improvements,” said Rossman, a regional representative for the Wilderness Society.
“New trashcans, while they may not be the most sexy things, are really critical to the visitor experience,” he said.
One year since the designation was made, a lot of the accomplishments in the monument are hard to see. Forest managers said a lot of the big visible changes will take time to complete but that in the meantime, much of the groundwork for those changes is being laid.
“We think we’re off to a good start and that we need to maintain momentum and be held accountable for showing measurable progress on the ground,” said Jeffrey Vail, Forest Supervisor for the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
“If people are not satisfied with that progress, if they see areas where we could improve, please let us know," Vail said. "Working together, we think we can address some of the challenges."
Some have criticized the apparent slow progress within the monument, citing the continued presence of litter and graffiti. Vail said the conditions are to be expected, considering the high usage of the forest.
“Until and unless we are actually closing down the forest every evening and locking the gates — which we do not now do — it’s going to be very difficult to completely prohibit the presence of those sorts of human impacts,” said Vail.
Others said much more has to be accomplished behind the scenes, including significant outreach and education, before the visible blights can be controlled.
“The trash and the graffiti have been going on — I can’t even begin to guess — but probably 20 years or more here. So it’s going to be a long-term process, both to clean it up but to get the capacity to clean it up and to help educate the public about the appropriate use of the landscape, of the land,” said Mary Mitsos, interim president of the National Forest Foundation.
Mitsos pointed to the recent hiring of several Forest Service personnel as a sign of progress. Since the designation, the Forest Service has hired bilingual field rangers, visitor information specialists, a partnership coordinator, a volunteer coordinator, a trash truck driver. Four more positions are expected to be filled next year.
Other efforts underway include agreements to provide nearly $900,000 to fund youth crews and interns, $617,000 towards construction contracts for recreation site improvements and $265,000 towards supplies and equipment.
The National Forest Foundation, which provides support for National Forests, has raised $3.4 million for improvements in the new monument. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also committed $3 million of Congressional appropriations for the site.
“To get $6 million in one year for projects and improvements, I’m not sure I’ve heard of it happening anywhere else,” Mitsos said.
Other accomplishments include the formation of the San Gabriel Mountains Community Collaborative, a group of more than 40 individuals representing the interests of groups as varied as off-road vehicle enthusiasts and the Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians - Kizh Nation.
Belinda Faustinos, chair of San Gabriel Mountains Forever, said she was heartened by the discussion at a meeting of the collaborative earlier this week, especially considering that the Forest Service still has two years to complete its Monument Management Plan.
“I’m really excited about what I’m hearing from the staff in terms of their interest in really doing it right and making sure that they’re talking to the users in terms of what kinds of things they want to see in terms of signage, in terms of access to recreation — those are the things that I think are really important. That if we’re going to be making a significant public investment, let’s make sure that we’re really addressing the needs of the people that are actually out there using the resources,” Faustinos said.
More visible signs of improvements are expected to appear in the near future. Vail said at least a dozen new signs would be put up within the monument over the next few months. Plans eventually call for landscape-level changes such as restoring degraded habitat and removing invasive plants.
In the meantime, Forest Service staffers have begun placing 68 new dumpsters at key locations within the monument.
Emely Garcia, a coordinator for the "Convert a Can" project, which aimed to reduce graffiti and littering within the forest, said she had mixed feelings about seeing the old dumpsters go.
“It’s definitely sad to see them gone, but there’s new cans. I know that there’s so many other people that are just so excited to be part of this project. So we’re just looking forward to new, fresh paint on new cans,” Garcia said.