Sunday, March 4, 2012

Walking Tour of LA River

I first found out about this tour on the Facebook page Hidden Los Angeles.  Its a great page that talks about all the secret beautiful spots in LA that people don't normally go to.  I thought it would be a great way to learn about the history of the LA River, teach the kids a little something about our environment and ecosystems and a fun way to spend the day.  Unfortunately, I built it up too much in my head.

Ideally its a great activity.  Seven stops along the LA River to compare and contrast the ecosystem, estuaries, wildlife, etc.  As a native Angelino I forget the river is a living thing.  As a child I remember it being called a wash or drainage system.  It wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I realized there was once a river there so many years ago and it was concreted in and dug down to prevent future floods.  I remember as a child driving up the 5 freeway from Los Feliz to Glendale and seeing the cat face painted on the storm drains, in an effort to brighten up the river.  Now as an adult you can't see those drains anymore because of the enormous trees growing in the middle of the river.  It really is on its way to being a living river once again.

We purchased tickets from Eventbrite to go on an all-day tour of the river.  It would be 7 stops including a lunch stop and raspado stop.  Adult tickets were $25, children 8-12 were $5, children 7 years and under were free.  I thought it was a pretty great deal that we only had to buy 3 tickets.

We met at the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens in Los Angeles.  This is a really cute little area that I didn't even know existed.  It has a tiny (minuscule) museum that talks a bit about the history of the river.  There is a tiny river that shows water flow and the ecosystem surrounding the river.  There was also a display of a estuary.  The outside gardens are beautiful as well.  The kids had a great time running around and looking at all the pathways and fountains.  There were several rooms and bar areas that led me to believe you can rent it out for weddings or parties.  I could see us going back there this summer as a mini-field trip and taking a picnic.  Its free, there are clean bathrooms and there is lots of shade.

We met our guide at 9:45.  She told us what to expect for the day, we split up into car pools (15 cars total, since our group already totaled 7 we traveled by ourselves), and exchanged paperwork (waivers/maps).

Our first stop was at Yoga Park, you won't be able to find it on a map.  Not even sure why it is called Yoga Park.  See below for a map of all the stops.  We parked on the street and found a small trail that walked us right into the LA River (well, not the actual water, but on a walking path next to the river).  I had no idea the river was accessible to the public.  NONE.  As a native Angelino I grew up listening to the stories of people swept away in the river during storms.  I have always assumed that the river is off limits and dangerous, so it felt weird to be able to actually walk down the embankment and into the water.  But we did.  The kids and I walked all the way down to the water and looked at all the wildlife, nests, trees, algae, birds (at least a dozen species) and sadly trash.  The guide talked about the different mountain ranges and how the water gets deposited into the LA River.  She talked about how the river was once used as drinking water, but over years it became used as sewage.  The rain water gets caught by all the drains in the city and collected in the various tributaries and basins and then deposited into the ocean.  Non of the rain water goes into the water table or into our ground or even collected and used for secondary water usage (watering of plants and such).  But she works for a group that wants to change all of that.

Our second stop was at Marsh Park.  It is also not on the map.  The closest intersection is Mellon Avenue and Marsh Street.  This is a cute little park with a few animals for the kids to climb on, some benches and one BBQ.  The really neat aspect of this park is that it is access to a bike path right along the river, be careful though.  Bikers have the right of way.  This park has a basin built into it that collects rain water and filters it into the water table.  To prevent flooding there is a drain pipe that does drain into the LA River.  Although there is technically access to the river at this point, I don't advise it since it is steep and there is no flat area near the bottom.  There are also bars to keep people out.  We stopped here and talked about how nifty it would be to cut off storm drains at the end of each street and install these little parks that allow water to be reintroduced to the environment rather than be dumped in the river and shuttled down to the ocean.

Our third stop was at the Arroyo Secco Confluence.  To be honest we arrived a bit late for this part of the tour.  We missed most of the talking.  And this is where things went bad for me.  I completely and 100% acknowledge I hate germs and filth.  I also hate sand.  I am not an outdoorsy person.  So when we walked through an open maintenance gate (with permission) and down a concrete drive intended for maintenance vehicles, into the filth of the drainage, through a homeless camp, to stand in the water (among debris, trash, bird poop, etc) I kind of freaked out.  I further freaked out when the kids decided to sit in the dirty gross sand and play in it.  I absolutely would not let them wade into the water and quite frankly I question the judgement of all those who did.  It was also getting pretty warm at this point.  I missed the educational part of the talk (something about where a tributary joins the LA River), but I was there for her political pitch on what to do with the river and how the whole area should be turned into a public park.  She talked about how much money was needed and about how the city owns 26 miles of the river (there are a total of 51 miles).  She had pictures of what the area would look like when it was revitalized.  I admit I got pretty irritated at this point.  I really was expecting a history tour but the guide kept dropping gems like "I am so glad you all support this project." and I started questioning where my money was going.  We left the presentation early to disinfect after walking the urine stained streets of Los Angeles.

Our fourth and last stop was under the 6th street bridge.  Again I was just amazed we could walk down to the river.  There is a road, through a tunnel so you can actually drive into the river.  This stop was much different than the first stop; a lot less foliage and the water was more calm.  This part of the river is between 2 sets of train tracks and under the 6th Street bridge (which apparently will be undergoing refurbishing in the near future).  But unfortunately this is where things started going bad.  It was 1:30 pm which is nap time for the 3 youngest children, especially after a full day on Saturday.  The only places to stand were severely slopped and each time a child moved around I envisioned a steep tumble into the water (although shallow, still very slippery and filthy).  Eleanor couldn't be put down because she is so unsteady on her feet. The guide delivered her pitch hard at this point.  She again had a huge poster of what the river currently looks like and an image of what her group would like it to look like.    It seemed completely unrealistic and even unneeded.  It would require moving train track and she wanted a coffee shop to be opened up on the river banks, far from other businesses where there is no foot traffic.  She complained about how the city requires her to have a permit to have access to a public space for these tours (well, duh, she is a business) and did too much talking about 'the man' (not using those words).

The next stop was lunch on 1st street.  It was not included in our ticket fee.  My children had already eaten, they were cranky, I was hot and cranky, and I was tired of hearing about how we needed to raise $5.63 trillion dollars to make parks all around LA and provide access to the river.  She talked about how great it would be to have mini-parks like Marsh Park at the end of each and every street to help with drainage and she talked about how it was a shame children couldn't walk all over Los Angeles.  It had become political and that is not what I was there for.  We headed home and the children all took a much needed rest.  I made our apologies (not citing the political tone of the tour) and she said she understood and the children were well-behaved.  She invited us back for the afternoon part of any future tour.

I will go ahead and post the remaining stops, but will not be able to comment on them since I didn't visit them myself.  It does however seem like a neat thing to do with the kids this summer.  We got a lot of value out of just being able to access the river and have conversations with them about trash, ecosystems, water traveling down hill, the wash by our own house, etc.  I don't feel the guide added much to our experience.  Next time I wouldn't dress for hiking.  I wore pants and boots to protect my legs and feet, but it was much more a walk where you drive 10 minutes, get out of the car, listen for 10 minutes and get back in the car.  Some people were wearing flip flops, dress pants and sandals, and some people were actually infirmed.  It was actually very accessible to the children and even the elderly.

Remaining stops
Lunch:  between El Sol and 1st Street and 1949 East 1st Street in Boyle Heights.  This is also Mariachi Plaza which is a neat stop.

Maywood Riverfront Park

Raspado Xpress at 5150 Florence Avenue

Dominguez Gap Wetland

River's mouth

Other links about the Los Angeles River:

History from the Friends of the Los Angeles River, an advocacy group for the revitalization of the LA River.
Concise history of LA River

Website about the Los Angeles River
Government sponsored website

View LA River Tour in a larger map

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