The History of Packing in the Big Santa Anita

Bill AdamsThe first thing to keep in mind is that the Forest Service of old was very different than that of today. They had the same goal of preserving the trees and flowers and animals and general wilderness for future generations, but they managed the forests with an emphasis on recreation; and that recreation included everything from lavish housekeeping resorts to modest overnight hostels to rustic hunting cabins.

The skeptic might suggest that when the newly-formed Forest Service embraced the mountain construction, which had gone on for decades, it was just another example of government regulation for its own sake, as well as a means of revenue collection. But by all accounts, wilderness accommodations were encouraged and enjoyed by all, even the Forest Service employees, and without interjection of excruciating environmentalist minutia. Besides, it was in the Service’s best interest to have so many caretakers with personal and financial interests in the forest. The owners of resorts and cabins would, as they do today, prevent open fire, curb illegal activity and maintain trails.

None of this recreation infrastructure, including that built by the Forest Service, could have been possible without the help of pack animals. Big Santa Anita was once home to 5 resorts and well over 200 cabins. Before the road to Chantry Flat was built, all the supplies and building materials were packed in from a trailhead in Sierra Madre. It was natural to approve a pack station closer in when the road was completed late in 1935.

First Water Camp

Archeologists recently employed by the Forest Service have reported that the historical value of BigSAC’s 81 cabins, as well as Sturtevant’s Camp, Adams’ Pack Station, and the miles-long crank phone system linking the community, far outweighs their minimal environmental impact. The 83 special use permits, which expired in 2008, were renewed for another twenty years. The official opinion of the Forest Service is that these quaint little abodes benefit us all by demonstrating a way of life gone by, and most employees of the Angeles are quite proud to have the pack station and the community it serves in their forest. Read The Role of Outfitters, to know the place outfitters hold in the Forest Service mission.

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