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Restoring Fern Dell — a goal of LA conservationists

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Griffith Park is the beauty in the middle of the beast. The beast being a concrete hodgepodge of grid and gridlock. Greenery and topography are what sets Griffith apart.  And at one time, believe it or not, Griffith was even greener. <!-- missing image http://blogs.kcrw.com/whichwayla/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ferndell1-300x223.jpg -->

In one small corner of one of the country’s biggest urban parks, Fern Dell is  named after the thousands of leafy plants that line its 1,800-foot gravel pathway.  It was established nearly a century ago, first by volunteers, and later by New Deal workers trying to survive the Depression.  But a lot of those ferns haven’t survived the years, or even past renovations. Now a group of concerned neighbors wants to try and bring Fern Dell back to its glory days.

In the early days, visitors would send postcards from Fern Dell around the world, with images of the rustic bridges, faux bois railings, and the stream running beside the trail. Bernadette Soter of Friends of Griffith Park said that back in the day, Fern Dell had all the makings of a spa – Botox, nips and tucks – before they became the things to do in Beverly Hills.  The natural spring that feeds this stream was once nicknamed the Fountain of Youth.

<!-- missing image http://blogs.kcrw.com/whichwayla/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/110-37-InFernDell-300x186.jpg -->“My father was a maintenance supervisor for Rec and Parks in the 40s and 50s,” Soter said. “And he used to describe to me seeing people lining up to fill their jugs with water, and he used to laugh and said, ‘they think it’s going to make them feel better and they think it’s medicinal, but it really isn’t.’”

These conservationists, botanists, and local residents want to see Fern Dell returned to its past beauty. A feat that could cost as much as $1 million.  One of the consultants is Barbara Hoshizaki, a longtime professor of botany and past president of the American Fern Society. She’s so obsessed with the plant, even her clothing and jewelry resembles ferns.

<!-- missing image http://blogs.kcrw.com/whichwayla/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ferndell2-223x300.jpg -->“I think it’s the greenness, and greenness is associated with being relaxed,” Hoshizaki said of the appeal of ferns. “And then there’s so many different textures when you start to look at them. And then when you really look at them, there’s so many little interesting differences in detail.”

Hoshizaki has taken her botany classes to Fern Dell since the 1950s. But the park has wilted from age and abuse. “I brought visitors up here in the last few years and find the gates all closed and it was really disappointing, because they were very interested in ferns,” Hoshizaki said. “To have this restored again would be wonderful.”

Poor stewardship has also caused a decline in the number of native fern species in Fern Dell. “You know, at this spot we can see some invasive plants that have come in,” said Gerry Hans, president of Friends of Griffith Park. “This is bamboo, and there’s other invasive plants, ginger… this is gonna be a big part of the project, is getting rid of some of the invasive plants and opening up the space for the ferns again.”

<!-- missing image http://blogs.kcrw.com/whichwayla/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/ferndell3-223x300.jpg -->Jorge Ochoa says Fern Dell faces another threat – fern thieves.  So it’ll take some serious human effort, and money, to bring this place back to what it once was. This place that many native Angelenos remember with great fondness. People like Denise Delurgio. She’s 71, and remembers visiting Fern Dell with her grandmother.

“My earliest memory is when I was three,” Delurgio said, “and she packed my tricycle in the trunk of her car and brought me up here, so that I could ride on the little trail. And about halfway down we sat down on a bench in front of a waterfall, and I must have been a little chatterbox, because she said, ‘this is a good thinking place. Let’s just think.’ It started a lifestyle for me, of finding some thinking places.”

Delurgio says she looks forward to that place, in its restored form, soon.

(Photos by Steve Chiotakis)