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Exploring Rock Pool at Malibu Creek | Photo by Zach Behrens

If you open up the National Parks System Map and Guide and look over to Los Angeles, you'll see a green area denoting a National Parks Service unit within the city and into Ventura County. "There's a National Park in Los Angeles?" Why yes, yes there is.

"This is still a big secret in Los Angeles; that there is a National Park in their backyard," Woody Smeck said in a phone interview from his Thousand Oaks office. Smeck is the National Parks Superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is run under the Department of the Interior. According to him, even though the name says National Recreation Area and not Park, don't be fooled. The same exact regulations that guide National Parks dictate the rules in for the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area. Even at one point, a congressman wanted to change the name to Toyon National Park, which references the dominant chaparral plant found in the area.

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The National Recreation Area, in which the border was defined by congressional legislation in the 1970s, looks like a gerrymandered city council district, running down the beach past the Santa Monica Pier, Eastward on Mulholland Drive to the 101 Freeway and dipping down into Runyon Canyon, Wilacre Park and Franklin Canyon. The majority of the area covers a large swath of land starting between the westside and the West Valley heading toward the Pacific Ocean ending in the Point Mugu area in Ventura County.


For an interactive map, go to the official site and click on 'View Map.'

In all, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is 153,000 acres:

  • 15% of managed by the National Park Service.
  • About 23% is owned by the State of California under the auspices of the Santa Monica Conservancy and the California State Parks.
  • 47% is private, meaning people own homes and developers own and can plan development within the National Recreation Area.
  • The remaining land is a mix of city/county parks like Runyon Canyon and beaches, private trust land such as Stunt Ranch and compatible private recreation (e.g., private golf courses).

Why is this such a secret? Why does no one talk about this? For one, National Parks Service staff is prohibited from marketing what they do or have to share. And while printing up brochures and having a website is allowed, a campaign or any aggressive action to let people know is verboten by federal standards. For now, marketing the National Park that is Los Angeles' lies in the hands of the people -- that means it is up to you and us to spread the good word.
And one good place to start is with National Geographic Magazine's 2nd Annual BioBlitz. During a 24-hour period at the end of May, scientists, naturalists and community volunteers (registration is now open) will survey the land for a species inventory, observing and recording as many species as possible.