Click on image to view larger version. Graphic courtesy of California State Parks and Recreation

The California Department of State Parks and Recreation has released the draft management for Long Valley, in the Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. The area comprises approximately six acres of the park’s total 13,700 acres. It sits at the top terminus of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

This plan is the result of the overall Mt. San Jacinto State Park General Plan adopted in 2002. At that time, the State Parks felt a more detailed plan would be appropriate for Long Valley. The most sensitive and important habitat located within Long Valley is the montane meadow habitat found along Long Valley Creek, according to the plan’s authors.

This meadow is an exceedingly uncommon and fragile wetland habitat, made all the more rare by its isolation high above the Southern California desert. Protecting this rare and sensitive resource is a high priority of California State Parks.

“Considering the high visitation to that portion of the park, the [Long Valley Plan] will be a valuable tool in implementing positive changes,” said Garratt Aitchison, Mt. San Jacinto Park superintendent. “Balancing resource protection and recreation can be challenging. This plan does both very well.”

This draft is consistent with the park’s overall plan. In general, the current facilities in Long Valley would be concentrated on the north end of the Valley where the walkway from the Tram ends. Many of the recreation activities in the middle of the valley and montane meadow would be relocated away from the more fragile areas.

The overlooks on the trail along the valley rim would be refurbished so that they are safer and more accessible. Improving the total valley trail system is also a top priority, according to Aitchison. That includes “minor re-routes to protect the meadow zone, elevated (causeway) trail design, extending the nature loop, installing a footbridge, and improving interpretive signs.”

None of the work is going to start soon. The department’s budget has been trimmed and park units are struggling to maintain their “open” hours and staff. But Aitchison is optimistic, “Obviously this will be a challenge. As we have seen, parks throughout the state are struggling to keep their doors open,” he wrote in an email. “I have learned over the years that if you don’t have a plan ready to go, when money does become available, you are overlooked ... I’ll remain optimistic and vigilant. The good news is that our park is a favorite with our state-wide trails crew and CCC staff.”

Mount San Jacinto State Park was designated a unit of the State Park System in 1933. The primary impetus behind acquiring the land for public use was its value as wilderness. Long Valley’s proximity to urban populations and ease of access make it a unique and valuable recreational resource.

The Long Valley Ranger Station, built in 1963, is currently in serviceable condition but is undersized for current staff functions as well as visitor needs. For
example, there are only two single‐stall restrooms (men’s and women’s) available to service all visitors to Long Valley, including large school groups.

The Adventure Center was built in the 1970s and is in a dilapidated state, according to the planners. Its location at the west side of Long Valley inadvertently causes visitors to cross the creek and meadow.

Some of the changes recommended in the Long Valley draft Management Plan

  • Relocate Facilities to Long Valley’s North End
  • New Adventure Center
  • Synthetic Ice Rink
  • New restroom building
  • Area for summer equipment rental
  • Amphitheater with rustic stage for interpretive programs
  • Visitor contact kiosk
  • New ranger station
  • New maintenance shop, storage building, and wood shed
  • Improve electrical service
  • Improve Trail Conditions and Accessibility
  • Remove the trail crossing through the meadow and its corresponding footbridge.