Weird Beard Joel: Welcome to the Future Grizzly Bear National Monument in the Santa Ana Mountains

Every Thursday morning from 8 to 10, I greet commuters on the side of the road in my mountain man garb with a giant banner, which reads, “Welcome to Grizzly Bear National Monument.” I play my fiddle or mandolin, smile, and wave to passersby near the intersection of Jamboree and Santiago Canyon Road in Orange. Santiago Canyon Road is a scenic highway, which provides access to the Santa Ana Mountains, the largest and wildest landscape in all of Orange County.

I have a life-size homemade grizzly bear head on a post to catch everyone's attention. If somebody pulls over to inquire about my activity, I hand out a corresponding brochure and business card about my effort to preserve the Santa Ana Mountains with a new national monument designation.

When I began this publicity stunt, most drivers were unaccustomed to my presence. I received blank stares or looks of confusion. Many did not even notice me. They were consumed with cell phones, beverages, hair and makeup, or the crazy rush of traffic. I realized that I was like a new billboard and it would probably take a few weeks before people noticed. So every Thursday, I continued to greet hundreds of visitors to our local mountain range.

Pretty soon, I recognized regular commuters and they recognized me. Instead of confusion, I received smiles, waves, peace signs, thumbs-up, pointed fingers, headlight flashes, and honks of support. Even big rigs honked! A few months went by and 90% of the drivers reacted with overwhelming enthusiasm. Some drivers even took photos or videos of me with cell phone cameras. I was fueled by a mutual flow of positive energy. A joyous friendship blossomed between us.

When curious individuals pull over and step cautiously from their vehicles, they ask all sorts of questions, including, “What is all this? Where is the Grizzly Bear National Monument? Every time I pass, I wonder what you are doing here? Can I take your photograph? Can you play me a tune on that fiddle?”

I promptly answer their questions, play a tune, and wish them on their merry way. One woman with a bubbly personality commented, “I look forward to your infectious smile and wave. It makes my day before I go into work.” I was so moved by her comment that I replied, “Mission accomplished!”

Once in a while, someone flips me off, frowns, or shakes his or her head in disapproval. Apparently, some folks don't appreciate undeveloped rural places or characters that smile and wave on the side of the road. I don't expect everyone to agree with my agenda, but it still hurts inside when I receive a negative reaction.

When I think about my time on the side of the road, I am
redeemed by the willingness of strangers to be happy and interact positively
with one another. Even if I am not
successful in designating our Santa Ana Mountains as a new national monument,
at least I am helping to create positive memories for most of the visitors who
enter the range.I am part of a growing coalition of citizens, non-profits, and businesses working to preserve the mountain range as a new national monument in honor of the last known grizzly bear that was killed in Trabuco Canyon area in early 1908.

At almost 200,000 acres, the Santa Ana Mountains remain the largest intact natural and cultural resource in Orange County. Suburban sprawl is rapidly encroaching on Orange County's final frontier. Threats include residential development, monastery expansion, dams, roads, energy infrastructure, pollution, altered fire regime, and misuse. The most dangerous threat to the range is the disconnection and apathy of the millions who dwell at its feet.

For more information about the Grizzly Bear National Monument designation:

To fight recent development threats, please visit:
Saddleback Canyons Conservancy –
Canyon Land Conservation Fund –
Rural Canyons Conservation Fund –
Santa Ana Mountains Task Force, Sierra Club –
You are invited to the Wild-Canyons Benefit Show

Fundraiser at The Shadybrook Open Mic on November 2nd at 6PM –

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