Gum Grove: illegal digging and biking ramps up tensions in the park

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Dirt “ramps” such as the one shown above provide potential pleasure to bikers and potential injuries to other Gum Grove Park visitors.

Story and photos by David Nicholas Somlo

For the Sun

First in a series.

With the pandemic still in full swing and stay-at-home orders just being lifted on Feb. 22, the 9 to 13 age bracket is getting bored and perhaps a bit reckless.

They have started to build ramps for off-road biking and scootering at Gum Grove Park, which separates Seal Beach’s Hill area from the rest of the Los Cerritos Wetlands to the north.

Residents have notified Seal Beach police of the illegal digging of ramps out of the ground of Gum Grove.

Construction of these ramps may present a safety hazard to dog-walkers, joggers, and other passers-by, and upset the local ecology of the place as well.

Not to mention the fact children using these dips and jumps could injure themselves.

The SBPD has received seven calls since Jan. 1 about this matter and urge the public to be patient as the police do their best to balance these quality-of-life calls with other more pressing matters as they come up.

When things start to get heated however, as they did for at least one Hill resident, Ed Hirsh, it is clear the pandemic is starting to take its toll and that patience is in shorter supply these days.

Hirsh wrote recently that, about a year ago, he had to walk away from a possible altercation after telling someone about park regulations.

According to Chief of Police Philip Gonshak, digging ramps out of this “culturally sensitive” land formerly inhabited by the indigenous Gabrielino tribes violates Seal Beach Municipal Code section 7.20.045(A), which states: “No person shall damage or deface any city property.”

The park, soil included, is city property.

Not to mention this behavior may disturb local wildlife and desecrate indigenous peoples’ lands.

“What we need,” says Roberta Armstrong, a local jogger and conservationist, “is to have the City recognize the need for education, for both adults and kids, and to post regulations about what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior in a nature preserve.”

Very few know the rules and regulations guiding behavior in the park, let alone its history, what wildlife resides there, how human activity affects it, and what projects are going on that can be interfered with by such activity.

In an email, Police Chief Gonshak explained that Seal Beach officers prefer not to immediately cite or arrest juveniles (or parents) for building and using dirt ramps.

Officers in Seal Beach and around the nation prefer to educate and warn first before enacting any sort of enforcement.

“Lastly, I would ask our community to please be mindful of the fact that since this pandemic began, our children have been asked to stay home from school and in the same request we are encouraging them to go outside and exercise, hence causing this balancing act of what is good for the soul may not also be good for Gum Grove,” Gonshak wrote.

The 10-acre nature park is open from dawn to dusk, according to the city website.

One citizen, Barbara Wright, found a balance between recreation and leaving nature undisturbed during the stay-at-home orders, conversing with the hooting owls living almost in her backyard, which is located against the park on Crestview Avenue in Seal Beach’s Hill region.

Wright, who moved to the Hill in 1965, remembers brighter days for the property.

“We had picnics in the woods using the picnic tables the City had placed there. At one time we had concerts with live bands. It was a different kind of park then,” Wright wrote.

“Gum Grove has been used by so many more people during the pandemic,” she wrote. “It should be a safe place, a restful place, a place to escape to during these difficult times.”

Hill residents and visitors can help keep it this way by being patient with each other and receptive to new information about the park as it comes.