Coldwater Canyon Park: 40 Years in Paradise

I’m a very lucky guy. Every work day I get to escape LA and head on up into the Santa Monica Mountains to Coldwater Canyon Park, TreePeople’s home and campus above Studio City. In my “office space” I help manage a uniquely beautiful 45-acres of tree-lined trails, quiet picnic areas, benches with wonderful views of the Valley, rustic natural hillsides– plus a Watershed Garden, a nursery, an intimate amphitheatre, a LEED-Platinum Conference Center and more. The best part though is that it’s all available 365 days of the year to all the other lucky people who happen to come our way.

Many of our visitors are hikers, tens of thousands each year, in fact, while others are people just looking for some quiet serenity on our shaded paths, and still, others are brought here because of our work. Whether it’s the 10,000 school children who come up each year for an Eco-tour or the heads of major agencies and nonprofits meeting to discuss the future of our region’s environment, we are all so lucky for this oasis tucked away in the hills.

There’s an old saying, “You can make luck happen.” And, well, that’s certainly true of our park.

TreePeople crew in the early 80s

Much work has gone into making our park what it is today. It started nearly a century ago when our hillside trails were first carved out by the fire department to allow for patrols – at first on horseback, then later in Model Ts – to look out for brush fires, a concern from the very start of our City’s expansion into these mountains. As luck would have it, the fire chief stationed here had a green thumb – and his inspiration and hard work led to the planting of dozens of trees on our grounds in those early decades – with many still standing today, like the Deodar Cedars lining Coldwater by our entrance and the sweep of Eucalyptus along the eastern edge of our hilltop plateau.

In 1977, when the fire department moved to a new facility around the bend on Mulholland, luck struck again when Andy Lipkis, TreePeople’s Founder, learned that the site could be made available to us. After some negotiating with then Mayor Bradley, Coldwater Canyon Park was officially leased to TreePeople–but, with one major caveat. While we are beholden to keep our park open to the public every day of the year, we receive no public funding for its general maintenance – except a very modest $35 a day from Proposition K monies. This does not even  begin to cover all that we have to do to make this place safe, functional and to serve as an example of what we know LA needs to adopt in the face of our climate challenges.

So – just how do we keep it all together on our very tight budget, which is only possible because of the generosity of others?

It starts with the terrifically capable and creative Park Operations Staff: Mat Steury, our Facilities and IT Manager plus Joshua Koenigseker and Nathan Bock, our two Park Assistants. But, there’s no way that they alone can do it all — and that’s why we are absolutely dependent on volunteers. We welcome well over 700 volunteers each year, working with us to care for the grounds week-after-week– but then there are also those especially park-dedicated individuals like Merrill Koss, Kelly Garner and Ricardo Inostroza who come here on their own time to help us polish this precious gem.

As our 40th Anniversary Year in the park comes to an end, we hope our good luck with this land holds out well into the future– but there are worrisome challenges looming. After 5-years of record-breaking drought affected so many of trees here, last winter’s rains gave us a welcome reprieve. But we’re not “out of the woods yet,” if you will allow the metaphor.

So far, indications are currently that this winter is very possibly going to be dry and warm again – and so some of the trees that have been just “hanging on” in the natural areas may indeed suffer further, irreversible damage. On top of the extreme heat, there is the threat of the now unstoppable invasive borers that are already devastating trees in parts of LA. If they should reach this park, there is little to nothing we can do to stop them from changing the very character of our beloved park.

And so I close with a request of anyone reading this who already enjoys and cares about our park – and an invitation to those haven’t yet been here but might now be curious. Please visit us someday soon – and take a moment here to look around you, breathe in deeply and consider helping us keep this place alive and thriving – and serving the visitors day-after-day  escaping the City below.

I guarantee you, whether donating time or money, your help will be deeply appreciated.

And, hey, it just might bring some good luck your way!

By Jim Hardie

Jim Hardie was a full-time actor when he became interested in TreePeople after reading about our weekend plantings in the newspaper. Shortly after he started volunteering, Jim took TreepPeople's first-ever Citizen Forestry training in 1986 and began leading and training our growing volunteer base. A TreePeople board member since 1994, Jim has also donated his time to produce our summer benefit entertainment series for the past decade. Jim currently serves as TreePeople's Director of Park Operations.