For the first time in 30 years, hikers on Saturday will have permanent access to one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The city of Azusa and its partner, Vulcan Materials Co., dedicated the Fish Canyon Falls Access Trail Wednesday evening, a new, 0.7-mile pathway through a working rock quarry that leads to the canyon trail. The new trailhead begins off Encanto Parkway and includes a 70-space gravel parking lot. It will be open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer, roughly from dawn to dusk, city and Vulcan officials said.

By walking through the fenced-off path and a dirt trail through a restored portion of Fish Canyon Creek, hikers can reach the steel bridge that begins a 1.9-mile mountainous hike through a front-facing canyon lined with oaks, alders and spruce trees.

Access to the trail has been blocked since Azusa Rock began mining aggregate in the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon in the middle 1980s, though other accounts say the quarrying operations blocked access before that time. In the late 1990s, the city of Duarte and the California Conservation Corps cut a trail up and over Van Tassel Ridge near Duarte but the work-around trail included a 2,200-foot elevation gain and equaled about a 9-mile round trip.

The new access gets hikers from the parking lot to the falls in 2.6 miles or about a 5.2 miles round trip, said Mike Radford, area operations manager said Wednesday. More importantly, it cuts out 800 feet of elevation gain.

For about 9 years, Vulcan has provided chaperoned access through its property on select weekends in the spring and summer. The tours proved extremely popular, often attracting 500-600 hikers per day, said Atisthan Roach, Vulcan Materials Co. manager of public affairs.

The company’s goal was to create the unique accessway so that hikers could come and go as they pleased, without checking in and without permission. Vulcan agreed to do so by the end of August, a condition of its mining plan approved by the city of Azusa.

“We did provide access using the van trips but this, this was the dream,” Roach said, pointing to the new access trail.

Hikers walk through quarrying areas on both sides, under a conveyer belt transporting rock to its processing plant at the top of Irwindale Avenue. They are protected by overhead catches and three walls 30 feet deep. Later, hikers can meander through a restored portion of the creek, which earned an award from the Wildlife Habitat Council, leading to the forest’s edge.

Fish Canyon Falls have for more than a century been labeled one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the 700,000-acre Angeles National Forest. During non-drought times, the winding trail leads to an 80-foot, three-tiered waterfall surrounded by majestic canyon walls.

John Robinson, who wrote the bible on hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains called “Trails of the Angeles,” called it “one of the top natural attractions of the San Gabriel Mountains” in his book. The blocking of the trail by mining operations has been one of the most contested issues in the Angeles National Forest. In an effort to restore access to the trails in 1997, the city of Duarte built a 9-mile round-trip hike into Van Tassel Ridge but the trail is grueling and at times involves rock climbing, not to mention a 2,280-foot elevation gain, according to Dan’s Hiking, a popular blog that details numerous mountain hikes in Southern Califorina.

Robinson did not recommend hikers use the trail, calling it “no longer the easy walk it once was.”

Unblocking access to the falls was a condition of the city of Azusa when it approved a mining expansion for Vulcan Materials Co. The mining was given an August deadline, but will be two months ahead of schedule with Saturday’s opening.

The company is working on reducing the scaring known as the Mayan steps, 30-50-foot high conventional benches that are being converted into 1-2-foot “microbenches.” In October, Vulcan began mining fresh aggregate from Van Tassel Ridge, which is west of the San Gabriel River but still within the city of Azusa.

 

Adjacent city of Duarte fought the mining project, spending $600,000 on lawyers and consultants and lost. The EIR found the project would not create any significant, unavoidable air quality impacts. However, Duarte officials fear the project, which will extract 105.6 million tons of aggregate from the mountain between now and 2038, will negatively affect air quality while destroying Azusa’s Van Tassel Ridge.

City Councilwoman Margaret Finlay was not at Wednesday’s trail grand opening.

“You think they will go ahead and call a press conference when they have their first explosion and start grading Van Tassel Ridge,” said Finlay, during an interview Thursday.

She called the new trailhead and access way “too little, too late.”

However, Duarte Mayor Liz Reilly and City Manager Daryl George did attend the dedication and ribbon cutting. Azusa Mayor Joseph Rocha, who opposed the mining plan, attended the ceremony, along with fellow council members Uriel Macias, Eddie Alvarez, Angel Carillo and Robert Gonzalez.