Four visionaries formed the Altadena Foothills Conservancy (AFC) in 2000 – Nancy Steele, Astrid Ellersieck, Diane Walters and Lori Paul. They moved quickly to build an all-volunteer corps committed to conservation in Altadena: They worked wisely, saving three parcels, creating a water-wise native plant pocket park, making a film on the history of water in Eaton Canyon for local schools, all while creating a vibrant conservation community.
This small but effective group of volunteers had an immediate impact on conservation in Altadena, working to have open space there nominated as a Significant Ecological Area, working with Trust for Public Land to conserve 15 acres in Chaney Trail and conserving the Andrea Wilson Triangle.
In 2008, the Altadena Foothills Conservancy board resolved to change the name to Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy to better reflect our new vision to conserve lands in the communities along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. In 2010 AFC hired John Howell, then a member of the board, as its first Executive Director. One year later, President Nancy Steele stepped down and off the board, having been privileged to lead the organization from its founding.
As a land trust, AFC identifies and prioritizes for conservation, undeveloped private properties situated along the San Gabriel Mountains from Altadena to Tujunga and in the San Rafael Hills and Verdugo Mountains. Through our strong network of expert advisors and collaborative partnerships with conservation organizations and state agencies, AFC gathers extensive biological research on each potential property – putting together an “ecological package” of information about the water, habitat and wildlife at each property, along with its potential for community programs. We then acquire high priority parcels from willing owners by purchase or donation, or place use restrictions on properties in order to preserve them as open space in perpetuity. AFC raises funds to preserve these properties from government agencies, foundations, community non-profits and community members.
Accomplishments include protecting 41 acres of open space in Rubio Canyon, 13 acres in Lower Millard Canyon and 16.5 acres of open space along Chaney Trail, all in the Altadena foothills. In La Crescenta we conserved eight acres of open space in Goss Canyon, now known as the Rosemont Preserve. And in Pasadena we protected the last undeveloped open space above Brookside Golf Course leading into the San Rafael Hills – an 11 acre beautiful canyon with a perennial spring called Cottonwood Canyon. A supporter donated 40 acres to us of high-value habitat land in the high desert of Antelope Valley to create the Piñon Hills Reserve and another donated 10 acres in Glendale we call the Sunshine Preserve. We also built a demonstration pocket park known as Old Marengo Park, using native plants and water-wise gardening techniques.
AFC’s original board members authored two conservation plans for Altadena, commissioned a biodiversity study of Altadena canyons, and produced a based on the life of Benjamin Eaton, who played a major role in bringing water to the San Gabriel Valley. During the summer of 2018 AFC partnered with Descanso Gardens to create their first habitat connectivity exhibit and will host the first ever exhibit in the Boddy House during the summer of 2023 ~ entitled “Living in a Wildlife Corridor.” We have a robust internship program, mentoring two to three year-round interns along with an intensive eight-week summer internship program.
Our most pressing project is the Hahamongna to Tujunga Wildlife Corridor Initiative. It has a goal of linking the San Gabriel Mountains at Hahamongna Watershed Park to the San Gabriels at Big Tujunga Wash for wildlife passage through the San Rafael Hills and the Verdugo Mountains, a 20-mile long corridor. A successful project will bring to life 2,400 acres of habitat in the San Rafaels and 11,000 acres in the Verdugos by connecting them with the 700,000-acre Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriels. Wildlife can then live in these urban hills with ready access to others of their species in the abundant range of the San Gabriels, assuring genetic diversity. AFC authored a biological study of the entire corridor, which was approved by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife in 2017.
AFC is facilitating an interdependent network of conservationists and funders to establish and protect this corridor. Our state partners in this project so far include the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, California Natural Resources Agency, National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board. Additionally, we are engaging a long list of conservation organizations, cities, utilities, businesses, foundations and community members.
AFC’s commitment to conservation encompasses more than preserving these properties in perpetuity. AFC feels a strong responsibility to spread conservation education in each community surrounding our properties. To ensure the future stewardship of these properties we need to nurture the next generation of land stewards. As we acquire each property, we establish a local, volunteer-driven community “Friends” group to husband it. The Friends provide program ideas, outreach to the community and manpower; AFC undergirds it with expertise and resources needed to execute programs and effectively manage the property. Examples of programs initiated and run by Friends groups include field trips for local public schools, community service days for students, docent led tours and open gate days, all providing opportunities for community members to visit our properties and learn about the unique natural diversity of our foothills.
In addition, our program administrator works full time bringing people to nature and keeping in close contact with local public schools by helping them create native gardens and attending their science and STEM fairs. We also rely heavily on our advisors. These volunteers expand our capacity by bringing their skill and expertise in everything from biology to geospatial analysis, public relations and wildlife photography. There is little we do without their wisdom and guidance.
We strive to collaborate in everything we do, from consulting with national, regional and state agencies on our conservation projects to employing the California Conservation Corps to do fire hazard reduction work and partnering with community organizations such as Altadena Heritage and Pasadena Heritage to create events in our communities. We provide dedicated mentors for Boy and Girl Scouts interested in completing projects at our properties, and provide a traveling habitat exhibit for presentations at local schools.
All of this we do in furtherance of our mission to secure, protect and steward our precious open spaces and nurture the next generation of land stewards.
The Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.