There are several park and wilderness areas in West Los Angeles that have extraordinary histories, offer great resources – and are generally unused by the hiking community.
Two of special note are the Charmlee Wilderness Park, in Malibu, and right here in Brentwood, the Crestwood Hills Park.
Charmlee (named after founders Charm and Leon Schwartz) has a remarkable history. At one time, a portion of the park was going to be a golf course, among other unfulfilled visions.
According to local historian Glen Howell, “In the late 1960s, the County of Los Angeles purchased three parcels of land to form Charmlee Regional Park, which was officially opened as a natural area in 1984. All of what is now the park was part of the Rancho Malibu Spanish land grant obtained by Jose Tapia in 1802. Matthew Keller bought Rancho Malibu in 1857. In a 1864 court case, Keller was granted title to a part of the Tapia claim, 13,315 acres along 17 miles of beach. The rest of the original Spanish grant became U.S. government land, much of which was homesteaded. The first homesteader north of Malibu Ranch was Marion Decker who claimed 160 acres in Encinal Canyon in 1885. Decker family land included the two parcels of land which the County added to Charmlee Ranch. Marion Decker built the first road down Encinal Canyon from his cabin to the beach in 1885.
Howell explains that in 1985, a major fire burned through the park. After the fire, the County built the Fire Ecology Trail. Both the Botany Trail and the Fire Ecology Trails had numbered posts with interpretive guides. The posts are still there, but nature has changed the plant life, making the trail guide obsolete. L.A. County lost interest in Charmlee, and, in 1993, the City of Malibu took over its operation. Malibu bad became a city in 1991, and most of the park is inside the Malibu City limits. Charmlee was officially transferred to the City of Malibu from the County in 1999, with the provision that the park remain a natural area, or be returned to the County.
Crestwood Hills has a little higher profile owing to its adjacent and popular Tumblewood Camp and the Crestwood Nursery School. Originally owned by a unique Mutual Housing Authority (a form of Homeowners Association), the land was donated over 50 years ago to the City of Los Angeles in exchange for its maintenance as a public park. Now part of the City’s Park and Recreation system, its obscure canyon location has kept it more of a locals’ venue, although everyone is welcome.
For hikers, its upper terrain connects to the top of Kenter, and beyond to Mulholland. There is also a seldom used path to a smaller patch of park on Tigertail Road. Many folks don’t realize that the small Tigertail Park is a part of the larger Crestwood Hills Park below. (The really interesting story is the evolution of Crestwood in general, but that’s for another column.)
Of course, every park has its own history, and these are just two examples of underutilized resources that I hope you take the time to discover.
Fearless readers interested in free Monday and Wednesday night hikes, should call Scott Regberg at (310) 475-5735