Residents say historic Mentryville property in need of some TLC 

Josh Premako frequently hikes around Mentryville with his son and said he felt “absolutely deflated” after a recent trip. Josh Premako/ For The Signal
Josh Premako frequently hikes around Mentryville with his son and said he felt “absolutely deflated” after a recent trip. Josh Premako/ For The Signal

A historic area off Pico Canyon Road known as Mentryville represents a town that sprouted up after “black gold” began pouring out of the ground in 1876. 

The first commercially viable oil well in Pico Canyon, which grew to a home for more than 100 families, was capped in 1990, but not until after Pico No. 4 officially became the longest continually operating oil well in the world. 

The boomtown days are long gone, however, and some visitors recently have said the area could certainly use some love and attention. 

Those responsible for the area’s care have said they would love to provide more services, but the organization simply doesn’t have the funds for additional operations right now, and likened the current state of affairs to “triage.” 

Recent needs 

Robin Baerg, a frequent hiker of local trails who shared pictures of the park’s disrepair recently, said she was taken aback when she toured the grounds at the end of last month on her visit. 

“It was astonishing to me, literally, astonishing, how overgrown with an invasive species, the mustard seed, having volunteered to pull it from other open spaces in Santa Clarita,” Baerg said Tuesday. 

Josh Premako frequently hikes in the area with his son, and shared similar concerns, adding he felt “absolutely deflated” after a recent trip. 

“The grounds of a historic site are clearly not given the care they deserve, from piles of construction material and unusable picnic areas, to a lack of better signage, subpar trails management and a nonfunctional parking permit payment kiosk,” he wrote in a recent email. 

He also mentioned being aware that there seems to be personnel available to patrol for parking violations on the property. 

Premako added Tuesday that when he went back out to the site Monday, following his correspondence with park officials and posts on social media, he noticed there had been significant brush clearance. 

Park response 

Located in the north end of Santa Clarita Woodlands Park, the land is currently managed by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority, and officials said Tuesday the property is still on track to have the brush clearance by the start of fire season. 

Dash Stolarz, who handles media requests for the authority, said Monday the MRCA has received residents’ concerns and wanted them to know they’re being addressed.  

“It wasn’t that we weren’t doing it, we were in the middle of doing it,” she said in a phone interview Monday, referring to photos that have been posted on social media of the overgrown brush. 

The work that residents were asking about had already been scheduled as part of the parks’ maintenance cycles, she said, adding the work was already under way. 

Stolarz added that there were a few significant factors in recent years that have made things like maintenance and upkeep much more difficult and expensive for the MRCA. 

The agency would love to bring back more frequent tours and provide more services, but as a local government public entity established in 1985 pursuant to the Joint Powers Act, the MRCA is funded by the state and donations. 

Currently, Gov. Gavin Newsom is projecting a $58 billion deficit over the next two fiscal-year budgets, which has led to significant cuts across the state.  

“This particular time and place right now is right when the state budget is … I mean they clawed back every single cent of money that they’ve given to organizations like ours,” Stolarz said in a phone interview. 

On top of having fewer dollars to start with, she said, organizations like the MRCA and others like it have faced mounting costs due to changes to state law since COVID-19, which have significantly impacted the authority’s ability to have volunteers. 

For years, the Friends of Mentryville was a group that provided great support for the land, she said. 

Insurance carriers now require nonprofits to provide liability insurance for volunteers who perform labor on the MRCA’s behalf. This created potential workers compensation issues the nonprofit now has to deal with.  

“We’re doing what we have to do, but it’s not as if these are wonderful, abundant times,” she said, alluding to the budget situation and the rising costs. 

“It’s a really special place, and I understand that,” she said, recalling conversations she’s had with some of Mentryville’s supporters in the past who want to see the area returned to its former glory as a spot where people can tour the more-than 100-year-old school house and other historic sites, like the famous oil well. 

“Right now, what we need to do is triage and make sure that everything is safe.” 

Local support 

Santa Clarita Councilwoman Laurene Weste said the city of Santa Clarita put most of the historic artifacts that were in and around Mentryville’s buildings on the property in storage after the 2003 Simi Fire threatened to burn everything down

In terms of the fire season this year, Kaitlyn Aldana of the L.A. County Fire Department said there’s been no official start date each year, it depends on the weather. However, she added fire officials have recently started the discussion for 2024’s announcement. 

Weste praised the work the MRCA has done in working with the city to preserve open space and mentioned Mentryville as a unique situation. 

“I think that they have their hands full,” Weste said in a phone interview Monday. “They have always been great with open space. The town is a bit complicated.”  

Weste, who said she was conducting her own brush-abatement in the yard while speaking about the property, said she would ask city officials if there was anything they could do to help.  

“I worked on the original Friends of Mentryville and we love it as part of our history, and we will try to assist the conservancy if they need it,” she added.  

Stolarz mentioned the National Park Service as another potential partner. 

“As we can get more funding, we can organize a little better to help the properties. We’re not going to let them become historically irrelevant,” she added. “It would be great if the National Park Service, if the Rim of the Valley, for instance, was funded and it could become a National Park Service property, that would be a really great thing.” 

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