Signs of the Times: ‘Your help is needed,’ Couch’s office says

  • The new sign on Cerro Noroeste Road [photo by Patric Hedlund]

    The new sign on Cerro Noroeste Road [photo by Patric Hedlund]

By Patric Hedlund

Is there a Pine Mountain Monkey Wrench Gang? Edward Abbey wrote a famous novel about environmental activists who used nonviolent but often creative sabotage against machinery, dams and, yes, signs, to fight injustice. Now a local politician is calling to ask for help to find a sign that may have been “monkeywrenched” out near Highway 166 and Hudson Ranch Road.

Whether there are local monkeywrenchers or not, it appears that a major goal of many members of the Pine Mountain community is on the verge of being attained.
County Supervisor David Couch made an agreement with the community about a year ago to restore the true name, Cerro Noroeste, for all signage references to the 8,300 foot mountain standing west of Mt. Pinos. It is pronounced Ser-o Nor-O-est-A—meaning Northwest Mountain.

Traces of the ‘Mt. Abel’ label for beloved Cerro Noroeste are in the process of being removed.

Progress and a problem

On Tuesday, Aug. 19 the South West Recreation & Park District of Taft changed its sign at the intersection between Peak to Peak Mountain Charter School, Camp Condor and the Apache Saddle station of the U.S. Forest Service. The USFS is said to be working on changing the signs on its peak to peak trail.

Now Ryan Shultz, field representative from Supervisor David Couch’s office, has called The Mountain Enterprise to report that he needs help to finish the project. A sign out on Highway 166 pointing to “Mount Abel,” was “disappeared” this year, about the time the community was becoming restless over when the signs would finally be changed.

Ku Klux Klan in Kern Co.

The name “Abel” was placed on the mountain in the 1950s to honor former Kern County Board of Supervisors Chairman Stanley Abel. He was proud of also being Kern County’s Ku Klux Klan (KKK) leader in the 1920s.

The racist KKK was powerful in Kern County. Sheriffs, deputies, businessmen and politicians belonged to the secret fraternity responsible for terrorism, lynchings, arsons and beatings, according to historical accounts by The Bakersfield Californian.

Flash forward almost 100 years: The people who live here now and use the mountain for recreation as well as memorials, weddings and spiritual ceremonies began a campaign several years ago to rid the area of the KKK references.

The actual official name of the mountain, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and the USFS, is and always has been Cerro Noroeste.

Here’s the hitch

But here’s the hitch: to put up the real name on the post at Highway 166, Caltrans says it needs the old missing sign to be returned. It wants to use the existing sign as the base to which the new plate is to be attached, explained Ryan Shultz this week.

He is asking that the sign be returned, “no questions asked,” so the project can be completed.

How can it be returned?

Shultz asked that the community figure that out. He just wants the sign back. “They can take it to the newspaper, or to the clubhouse,” he said.

Dropping the hot potato

“I have heard a lot of people still angry [about how long this has taken],” said Frances Durocher, who coordinates the Pine Mountain Town Hall. “I think it is possible somebody destroyed the sign.”

But what if it is still available, and somebody local knows where it is?

Durocher thought for a moment: “It is like a hot potato. If someone doesn’t want to be seen, maybe they could slide it onto the Pine Mountain Village gazebo stage. It would lay flat on the surface, so it wouldn’t be seen so easily.”

Rosetta Burgelin, who supervises the village gazebo, said that is fine with her.

Spread the message

So folks, please spread that message: If you or someone you know, has the Mount Abel sign, please return it in the next 10 days, no questions asked.

You can bring it to the newspaper office or slide it onto the village gazebo stage.

“The important thing is getting the signage change project completed,” Shultz said, sounding weary but determined.

Photo captions:

At left and far left: It has taken a year, but the sign at the Apache Saddle intersection to Peak to Peak School and Cerro Noroeste has been changed.

The Mt. Abel sign on August 19, 2013

The new Cerro Noroeste sign on August 19, 2014

Below, near the Highway 166 intersection, a ‘Mount Abel’ sign like this has gone missing. It is needed, Caltrans says, to serve as a base for the new Cerro Noroeste sign. Supervisor David Couch’s office said they need it back to finish the signage project. They are asking for help to get it returned.

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This is part of the August 22, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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