Saturday marked National Public Lands Day, a day for nature lovers to actively participate in its yearly restoration — and a group of volunteers took to the former site of the St. Francis Dam to observe the day with a cleanup of the site of the historic disaster.
Established in 1994, the fourth Saturday of September gathers volunteers throughout the nation to, “roll up their sleeves to help restore and preserve public lands of all types and sizes — from iconic national parks and rivers to local urban green spaces and everything in between,” according to the National Park Service website.
The St. Francis Dam was completed in 1926, but failed two years later, resulting in one of the most catastrophic events in California history. Keila Vizcarra, public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service in the Angeles National Forest, discussed how the St. Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial and Monument, which was designated in 2019, honors the families impacted by the tragedy.
“St. Francis Dam was 200 feet high, and killed over 400 victims once the dam broke,” Vizcarra said.
The flood not only destroyed much of the Santa Clarita Valley, but also affected the nearby Piru, Fillmore and Santa Paula areas, encompassing over 52 miles.
“It’s the 30th Annual Public Lands Day, and this is one of many things that are happening all over the country. It’s essentially the largest volunteer day,” Vizcarra said. “There are three main areas of what folks have been doing today: one is micro trash removal, the second is graffiti removal and [and third is] clearing debris off the road and clearing a small section.”
Volunteers came to the St. Francis Dam in the Angeles National Forest to pick up trash, clear weeds and enjoy the provided lunch.
Cindy Villegas, the California regional development coordinator for the National Forest Foundation, discussed the importance of this initiative.
“Today we’re celebrating National Public Lands Day. We partnered up with the U.S. Forest Service, the National Forest Foundation and San Francisquito Canyon National Memorial to put this event together,” Villegas said. “We had volunteers come out to clean up the space … which makes it a safer area for people to come out.”
Recreation Technician Kyle Prinkey advocated that those who decide to enjoy the outdoors throughout the year should take the proper steps to ensure a safe environment for all.
“The St. Francis Dam site was recently designated as a national memorial, and eventually they’re going to build a visitor center here, but we’re just doing cleanup today,” Prinkey said. “Pack it in, pack it out. Please care for our public lands.”
According to Dana Dierkes, public affairs officer of the Angeles National Forest, Saturday’s event included 68 volunteers who collected 220.5 pounds of glass, repaired ditches on rain-damaged trails, covered up graffiti and cleared branches and small– and medium-sized rocks off a service road.