(Here is the second part of an article I wrote some time ago about a dedicated group of volunteers who are trying to save the Ridge Route – a road across the San Gabriel Mountains that literally held the state of California together.)
After lunch we climbed back inside the Tercel to examine more drains and to learn more of the Ridge Route’s history from Mike.
“The cement you see is the original road,” Mike says, “but from what I understand, there was never a center dividing line. There was also a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit. When you got onto the Ridge Route, you were given a ticket stamped with the time that you would reach the other end of the road if you stayed within the speed limit. If you got to the other end of it quicker than that, you got a speeding ticket,” he adds.
The group stopped a couple of times to dig out drains that had been choked by dirt and weeds.
“What tools do you need for this one,” one of the volunteers asks at a drain site that was completely overgrown with brush.
“A very large can of Drano,” was the reply.
Back on the road, Mike and I pass through an area known as Swede’s Cut, the only spot on the route where major excavation work was done. Rockslides had spilled onto the highway.
“This is an area where we have to do a lot of work to restore the road,” Mike says. “The goal is to re-create the entire road as it was around 1920, with authentic curbs and signage. I foresee a day when this road will be used as a park for bikers, runners, and for certain vehicles. We’ll probably need to do it in phases,” he adds.
The task ahead seems endless and often thankless, with as many hours spent weaving through governmental bureaucracy as in actual cleanup. But progress has been made. Much has been restored, and at certain historic spots the group has partnered with the Forest Service and another charity to erect roadside markers with old photos showing what the road looked like in its heyday.
“We need to work on education,” Mike says. “Many people who live near the Ridge Route have never heard of it. We need to do more outreach to let people know who we are and what we are all about.”
At the southern gate I ask Omieczynski why he drives all the way from Buena Park in Orange County once a month to work on a road that the world has mostly forgotten about.
“Because it’s fun. It’s as simple as that. That’s what keeps me coming back every month.”
Free of charge.