Residents of the Deervale community in Sherman Oaks have been gathering signatures of longtime hikers in the hopes of having public access restored to one end of Deervale-Stone Canyon Park.
Hikers can enter the trail at the southern end at Deervale Place, but residents at the northern access point, where Kester Avenue ends, are being discouraged by homeowners.
For decades, residents who live around the park have been hiking the trail that runs through 80 acres of open space.
The open space area—home to coyotes, deer and ground squirrels—was preserved by the city so that Sherman Oak residents would have access to open space where they could hike and walk their dogs, said Elke Heitmeyer, a board member of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association (SOHA).
A decade ago, a developer purchased part of the property with plans to build 100 homes, but residents worked with city officials to purchase most of the land and preserve it as open space, Heitmeyer said.
Plans for four to five homes were approved at both the Deervale and Kester ends of the trail. But the city failed to purchase additional parcels of land at the Kester Avenue end of the park that would have connected the park to a city road.
The developer built a road between the houses, however, that does provide public access to the park at the Kester Avenue end. The crux of the problem is the city failed to retain rights to that road, Heitmeyer said.
A right-of-entry agreement was made with a property owner whose land sits next to the park at Deervale Place, but city officials failed to strike the same agreement with the residents at the Kester Avenue end.
Access to the Kester Avenue trail head is gained by walking up a paved, half-mile-long road. In accessing the trail, hikers do not have to cross anyone’s property.
A trio of homeowners who live near the Kester Avenue trail head have expressed opposition to public access at their end, Heitmeyer said. At some point, they were able to get the city to erect no trespassing signs where the paved road meets the park, she said.
One of the homeowners, who opposed public access to the park from the paved road that branches off of Kester, refused to be interviewed for this story. (The other two were unavailable for comment.)
This Patch reporter visited the home of the man, who lives at 14856 Kester Ave. and erected a chain link fence around his yard to keep out hikers.
In response to the clanging of the doorbell, a man came out through a side door into his enclosed yard with a small dog. This reporter identified herself as a Patch reporter and asked to speak with him about the issues surrounding the park and the no trespassing signs that had been erected. He refused to be interviewed for the story and ordered the reporter off his property.
“You need to go over there,” he said to the reporter, pointing to the open space of the park. “This is my private property.”
According to Heitmeyer, the homeowners who live at the Kester Avenue entrance to the park, for years had no objection to hikers passing up the paved road to the trail. But then last year, the No Trespassing signs went up.
Unlike some of the more popular Los Angeles trail areas, such as Runyon Canyon, the Deervale area does not attract hordes of hikers, said Heitmeyer, who lives in the Deervale Community. At most, she sees only one or two of her neighbors during her morning hikes, she said.
“In the evening there are occasional groups of young people, who hike the trail after work,” Heitmeyer said. “It is fun to watch them huffing and puffing up the trail.”
Heitmeyer, a member of the planning and land use committee for SOHA, had hoped the access issue could be resolved by meeting with the neighbors. She and other members of the Deervale Community have tried to talk with the neighbors at the Kester Avenue entrance to the trailhead to no avail.
While they tried to work things out amicably, SOHA members have been gathering signatures from legacy hikers to petition city officials to take down the signs and make public access to the park more formal.
SOHA only needed four or five signatures from long-time hikers, but has gathered 30 signatures.
Since attempts to speak with neighbors who oppose public access has failed, SOHA members have decided to take the next step toward having the signs removed, which is to retain legal counsel in an attempt to compel the city to do what it promised Deervale residents they would do when the houses on Kester Avenue were built—to make public access to the park legal, Heitmeyer said.