The Meaning of Hahamongna

The original settlers of the region were sometimes called the Hahamongna Indians. The word means "Flowing Waters, Fruitful Valley" in the native Tongva language.

Hahamongna News


Photo Gallery: Environmental Education at Hahamongna





Laura Monteros


Altadena Patch


The Arroyo Seco Foundation and Save Hahamongna borrowed a technique from the classroom Saturday with outdoor learning stations dotted around the rim of the Hahamongna basin for the first ever Hahamongna Walkabout event.

The event was meant to teach people about Hahamongna, and at each station, presenters discussed a different aspect of the Hahamongna basin, which lies midway down the Arroyo Seco.

“We wanted to get a lot of different people up here to see what it’s like,” Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF), said. “It’s important to build a core of people to be informed and motivated to protect Hahamongna.” Brick estimated that more than 150 people turned out for the walkabout, including Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden and Pasadena first lady Claire Bogaard.

Advocates for Hahamongna have raised various concerns about threats to the park over the years, ranging from plans to install soccer fields to current worries over the effects of a plan to remove over a million cubic yards of sediment from the Devil's Gate Dam, which is in the park.

People came out with their dogs and kids to participate in the experience. The efforts on the part of ASF and Save Hahamongna to get the word out were far-ranging. Nearly every person we asked heard about the walkabout from a different source—a friend, Altadena Heritage, Pasadena Heritage, the ASF listserve.

People had varied reasons for attending the event. One of the attendees, Laurie Gould, had been at the protest over the removal of the oak woodland in Arcadia and was still affected by the devastation she saw.

Jane Nippell said she came because she is fascinated by Hahamongna in general.

“I just wanted to hear more about it. All through time. Then and now,” she said.

Ellen and Jim Strauss are birders who have been coming to Hahamongna for years.

“We had a bird list of 110 species,” Jim said. “It’s interesting to walk around and see the number of people who came. Hahamongna is one of the few open places in Pasadena that still has native plants.”

The event had been in the works for a couple months, Brick said, and was originally scheduled for Feb. 19 but was postponed due to rain. The postponement allowed for another reason for the walkabout.

“Part of today is celebrating the county’s decision to do an EIR [environmental impact report]” for removal of sediment from the basin, Brick said. The county had intended to do the removal without filing an EIR on the basis of an emergency declaration. Brick added that ASF is very pleased with Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who made the motion, and the two other supervisors—Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas—who supported the proposal.

Here are the highlights of the five learning stations:

Station one: History and threats

Historian Michelle Zack spoke about “the history and culture this piece of land has always had” as one of the more densely populated Tongva (Gabrielino) villages. The Arroyo Seco served as a highway between the beach Indians and the oak woodland where seasonal acorn gathering took place and was an important trade route. Tar from La Brea, used to waterproof baskets and boats, has been found as far east as the Mississippi River.

Brick listed “two threats to nature”: building another parking lot and raising area to the east of the current lower parking lot for soccer fields, and massive sediment removal above the Devil’s Gate dam.

Station two: Audubon Society

A table full of stuffed birds—the plush kind, not the feathered kind—offered three-dimensional representations of species that can be found in Hahamongna. Each bird made the appropriate call when squeezed. Trivia tidbit: The “chirp” an Anna’s Hummingbird makes is not a call, it’s the air being released from its tail feathers.

And the parrots? They aren’t considered invasive because they only eat the exotic plants that have been introduced and do not compete with native birds.

Station three: Five habitats

Samples of flora found in the different habitats in Hahamongna illustrated the varied ecology of the area: riparian (creek side), wetlands, alluvial canyon, chaparral, and oak woodland. Many of the plants have multiple uses, including medicinal or spiritual qualities. Mugwort can be a salve for poison ivy, a tea made from California coastal sage relieves pain, the bark of the arroyo willow contains salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.

White sage is the “most important plant for spirituality,” according to the station leader. Smudges are made from it and the smoke is fanned toward the face with a feather as a purification ritual.

Station four: Water

Brad Boman, an engineer with Pasadena Water and Power, staffed the water station. He explained the reason for digging out the pond behind the dam. The dam should be able to handle a 100-year flood, which would bring down 1.6 million cubic yards of dirt and debris.

With the drainage basin burned all the way up to Red Box Station, last year’s rains brought down 900,000 cubic yards of sediment last year and another 500,000 cubic yards this year.

Trucks are currently removing floating material such as logs and trash, Boman said, and it will take three years with seven or eight trucks per day, six or seven months a year to remove the sediment in the pond.

Another bit of trivia: The aquifer under the basin is not a cavern. It’s sand that traps water. A “straw”—a pipe with holes to let the water in—is used to pump out fresh water.

Station five: Wildlife

The dilemma over what to do about the sediment in the basin and how it will impact wildlife was discussed at the wildlife station. Waters levels had dropped since the last storms and a sand berm up to the overflow outlet could be seen.

But the aggressive plan to remove the sediment and vegetation “will be devastating to wildlife,” the station presenter said. The area is full up now with animals displaced by last year’s floods, and draining the basin would displace the animals yet again and leave them with very little cover, she said.

“We need a compromise,” she said. “Take out half of trees, dig deeper.” She suggested leaving some tree islands for birds.

Brick summed up the day at the end of the event. He said there were a lot of good comments from participants. “They are pleased with the level of expertise of people at the stations,” he said.

“I think it’s all part of educating the community about the rare nature of Hahamongna. How important Hahamongna is and steps to take to save it in the future.”