Years in the Works, There’s a New Hydration Station/Water Fountain at Will Rogers State Park

A hydration station/water fountain was placed at Will Rogers State Park in honor of three Palisades Ridge Runners in early March.

A brotherhood of local runners is responsible for the hydration station/water fountain that was installed by the restrooms at Will Rogers State Park in early March.

The saga of how it took 18 years for this water station  to become a reality (and dedicated to three men from Pacific Palisades) brings to mind the Will Rogers quote, “There are men running governments who shouldn’t be allowed to play with matches.”

Originally, years ago, the idea was to dedicate a bench at Will Rogers to Chris Carlson.

When the Ridge Runners began in 1977, Brian Shea, Bill Klein and Carlson ran on trails at Will Rogers early in the morning. They were soon joined by other like-minded runners.

Lynn Borland was one and, in a 2014 story, wrote: “While the number of everyday runners from the original group has dwindled to two, there has been a steady growth of new recruits — now including sisters who love to run. With no clubhouse, no officers, no agenda, no dues and only one rule, it would seem that such a lack of structure would doom the group. Just the opposite proved to be the case.

“The one rule? Those who want to join in for a hilly run of six, ten, fifteen or twenty miles must gather for the start at 5:50 a.m. If you arrive one minute late, you are on your own.”

Shea and Carlson came up with the idea of having a Will Rogers 10K in 1977, after running in the Brentwood 10K. They organized the first Palisades race on July 4th the following year — a tradition that has continued ever since, until postponed this year by Covid-19 restrictions.

The Ridge Runners continued to run, as chronicled by Borland: “We established a tradition many years ago dictating that for a member’s 50th birthday, the group traveled out of town for a marathon to celebrate the occasion. For Dick Lemen, the 26.2-mile marathon distance didn’t seem quite enough, so we designed our own 50-kilometer course complete with timed finish line, videotaping of the event and a massage therapist for après-race aches and pains. Of course, this also called for a giant finish-line party in honor of the birthday boy.”

When Carlson passed away 18 years ago, Shea said the group looked for a way to honor him. Initially they planned for a bench at the top of Inspiration Point at Will Rogers, but bureaucratic issues at the time prevented that from happening.

But Shea, who also serves on the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation, told Circling the News that the idea never went away, especially when the group later discovered that there “were many benches at the top of the point.”

Since State Parks officials now seemed to be welcoming benches from outside groups, the Ridge Runners considered putting one along a trail or by the polo field.

Instead, when Lemen died in 2017, the group proposed paying for a much-need drinking fountain and hydration station at Will Rogers. The project was still in the planning stages when Borland passed away in 2018.

Architect David Hibbert, another long-time runner, described the process that ensued. “It took a long time. Everyone at the local level was quite helpful, but it was a multi-layered process. They originally asked us to choose a fountain that had a retro look that fit in with the ranch. Then someone decided that a bottle filler would be nice and so the retro idea faded away and a more contemporary design was chosen.”

Hibbert said they thought they had all the approvals, when someone at the state level decided the fountain was not ADA compliant.

But, he told CTN in an email, “We had purchased the fountain at that point and it’s a custom order and quite expensive. The manufacturer lists the fountain as ADA compliant and we had chosen it with all of that in mind. After failing to convince this person that his interpretation of the code was incorrect, I hired the author of the California ADA handbook, who together with an engineer from the manufacturer convinced him that his interpretation was incorrect.”

The fountain was then given to State Parks for installation more than a year ago.

Hibbert, Shea and the other members of the committee were surprised when a running friend shot a photo of the fountain in March, shortly before the Shelter in Place orders went into effect.

Barbara Tejada, supervisor of the cultural resources program with California State Parks, said that “the water fountain installation was completed in early March. There are donation opportunities available through the Will Rogers Ranch Foundation (visit: willrogersranchfoundation.org).” She added that the bench capacity at the park is nearly full but the Foundation “accepts donations that can then be used for needed projects around the park, such as restoration of historic landscaping, preservation of collections, and materials for interpretive programs.”

“I was surprised as anyone to see the photo of the fountain all of a sudden,” Shea told CTN on the phone on May 27. “I can’t believe it’s finally done.” He said that a dedication ceremony with the runners’ families will be held after the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

“The station looks quite wonderful with the plaque,” Hibbert said

The plaque reads:

Palisades

Will Rogers

Ridgerunners

There is no friend like an old friend

who has shared our morning days.

No greeting like his welcome,

No homage like his praise.

The Ridge Runners cool down after completing yet one of their many journeys, this one atop Inspiration Point above Will Rogers in the late 1980’s.  (Front row, left to right): Tim McNamar, Dick Lemen, Cliff Schleuter, Peter James, Bill Klein, Tony Rosenthal, and (back row, left to right) John Montanaro, Kevin Ehrhart, Don McCarthy, Bob Klein, David Hibbert, Kevin Herz, Chris Carlson, Jon Varat and Lynn Borland.

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