By Michele E. Buttelman
Signal Staff Writer
On July 22, 2016, the Santa Clarita Community Hiking Club took an inaugural hike on the newly completed Dagger Flat Trail — previously a native Tataviam footpath — that had been lovingly restored by Steve Ritchie, Dave Pulsifer, Linda Castro and Dianne Hellrigel.
The quartet, assisted by other volunteers, had spent the better part of four years reconstructing a trail abandoned in the 1930s. A parking lot was built at the trailhead and Boston Scientific donated a sturdy picnic table.
On that hot July day, hours after the last members of the hiking club had returned to their vehicles and driven home, the Sand Fire roared through the area, consuming everything in its path. The Dagger Flat Trail and its thousands of hours of hard work; the picnic table; and more than $25,000 in tools, supplies and wheelbarrows used in the construction were gone, destroyed by the fire’s fury.
“It burned the night of the day we finished the trail,” said Hellrigel, Community Hiking Club executive director. “It was heartbreaking.”
The fire started after 2 p.m. on July 22, 2016, near the intersection of Soledad Canyon Road and Sand Canyon Road. By 10 p.m., less than eight hours after it was reported, the fire had burned more than 3,300 acres.
It wasn’t until Aug. 3, 2016 that the fire was 100% contained after burning 41,432 acres, 18 homes and costing one man his life.
History of Dagger Flat
In the years before, Dagger Flat was a trail in the Angeles National Forest. It was a Tataviam footpath used by the indigenous people of the SCV as a hunting and gathering trail. The trail, on the east side of Santa Clarita, is located just above Canyon Country.
Hundreds of years ago the Tataviam knew the area to be rich with wildlife and wild foods.
In 1930, the Angeles Civilian Con-
servation Corps, in coordination with the Angeles National Forest, resurrected the trail and named it Dagger Flat. It was the only trail in the western/northern portion of the forest at the time. However, the few farmers and ranchers in the area had no interest in the trail and it was soon forgotten.
Finding Dagger Flat
Hellrigel had read about the trail and was interested in finding where it was located. In 2012, using an old Forest Service map from 1930, Pulsifer and Hellrigel went searching the hills above Sand Canyon.
As Pulsifer and Hellrigel hiked through the thick chaparral, they found portions of the trail here and there, but much of the mapping process was done at ground level.
“We were on our hands and knees for 2.7 miles and we encountered more than one rattlesnake along the way,” Hellrigel said.
Ritchie and Castro soon signed on to the effort along with a cadre of other part-time volunteers.
Enough of a trail existed that a ribbon cutting for the trail was held Sept. 7, 2014. Nearly 40 people attended the ceremony, including local officials and other political representatives.
Construction continued on the trail, installing railroad ties and other improvements until the entire 2.7 miles was deemed “complete” on July 22, 2016.
Rebuilding Dagger Flat
After the devastation of the Sand Fire, the area where the Dagger Flat trail was located was closed to the public for several years.
“I wanted to go back to the trail but the Forest Service wouldn’t allow it because the conditions were still dangerous,” Hellrigel said. “The access road to the trail had fallen in, as well. It took them a long time to fix it.”
Hellrigel was able to start the process of rebuilding the trail in September 2021.
“It was 113 degrees and we hiked the whole trail,” Hellrigel said. “There were landslides and washouts. I can’t tell you how many times I fell. We were following a GPS track of the trail and marking it with pink ribbons.”
Work to repair the trail has been slow because of the pandemic. “I have about a half of a mile finished,” she said.
Enter the Tataviam
During her efforts to rebuild the trail, Hellrigel decided to involve
members of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians.
Jesus Alvarez is one of nine tribal senators who are responsible for the development of tribal laws under the Constitution of the Fernandeño Tataviam.
The two met when Alvarez’s mother passed on Hellrigel’s card to her son after attending a meeting held in Newhall.
“I found a kindred spirit in Dianne and when I learned what she was doing I wanted to help and serve,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez’s grandfather was born in Newhall and he felt a connection to Hellrigel’s project.
“I get to walk around and look at the soil and the sage,” he said. “There is just such a profoundness to be on the land. I feel very blessed to work with people to create this legacy. To have our hands on this trail that will live beyond us. It’s really something special. It’s a bigger picture than just me.”
Hellrigel said Alvarez and members of his family recently came out to help on the trail reconstruction.
“It’s so meaningful to have them be a part of this effort,” she said.
To Alvarez it is important to have this historic footpath reconstructed to be used by new generations.
“You have this sense of timelessness when you are walking on the trail,” he said. “We are all so busy, yet to walk through that land you have to be calm, quieted. In some places you have to put your phone away because there is no service and that helps, too.”
Dagger Flat Work Parties
Volunteers are being sought to help with the Dagger Flat reconstruction, said Hellrigel. Most work parties are held in the mornings to avoid the heat of the day and wrap up by noon.
To learn more or to volunteer, visit www.meetup.com/Santa-Clarita-Com munity-Hiking-Club-Meetup-Group or email Hellrigel at [email protected] com.