Scouting the Lower Los Angeles

November 12, 2008 § 1 Comment

Jenny Price and Jared Orsi at the Dominguez Gap in North Long Beach

Jenny Price and Jared Orsi at the Dominguez Gap in North Long Beach

Today was a nice unseasonally warm November day, perfect for some scouting along the Lower Los Angeles River with some great authors.  The expedition was organized by Jenny Price who will be leading Friends of the Los Angeles River’s upcoming bus tour of the lower river on December 7th.  Creek freak afficionados will remember Jenny price as the author of Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A. which is one of the best articles to introduce people to the river and to environmental issues and conundrums in Los Angeles. She also wrote Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America and the LA Weekly’s guide to the Los Angeles River in 2001.  At the steering wheel was Jared Orsi, author of Hazardous Metropolis: Flooding and Urban Ecology in Los Angeles another excellent book that covers the history of flooding and flood control on the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers.  Jared has been teaching in Colorado for a few years; this year he’s back in town as a visiting professor at Occidental College.

We made visits to the Cornfields, the 6th Street Bridge, Maywood Riverfront Park, Cudahy Park, river wall murals in Paramount, lower Compton Creek, Dominguez Gap, the estuary at Willow Street, and the Golden Shore Wetlands. 

Bulldozer sitting amidst the barren half of the estuary in Long Beach

Bulldozer sitting amidst the barren half of the estuary in Long Beach

At a lot of the sites along the concrete sections of the river, we saw plenty of greenery and birds that were inhabiting temporary sandbars that settle in atop the concrete.  These areas are best viewed in the fall before big rains come and wash them out.  There were plenty of egrets, gulls, and stilts on the river in Maywood and Cudahy.  Unfortunately the earthen-bottom areas aren’t looking quite as good.  In anticipiation of winter storms, the county’s crews have been pretty active in bulldozing to clear vegetation that potentially impedes channels’ flood protection capacity.  I know that this activity is permitted, and that the county only does half the channel in many areas… and has left a few willow trees standing… but it’s still jarring to me to see the flattened earth where grasses and shrubs had been growing a couple months ago.  Jenny Price remarked at how much habitat was lost.  The soft-bottom areas of Lower Comton Creek looked as barren as I had ever seen them – though there were some herons and coots taking solace in the small creekside strip of vegetation left.  The blight of plastic and polystyrene trash their is even more visually apparent as there’s no vegetation to hide it.  The estuary at Willow Street was still very full of life, though one bank looks looked like a vacant lot with a few lonely willow trees.

Low tide at the mouth of the Los Angeles River

Low tide at the mouth of the Los Angeles River (note the visible sandbars in lower left corner and middle right side of photo)

Today was the lowest tide that I’ve ever encountered at the mouth of the river.  Near the Queensway Bay Bridge, muddy earth at the bottom of the riprap walls showed.  Sandbar islands showed above the water’s surface along the Catalina Cruises Terminal and Shoreline Park.  The Golden Shore Wetlands were showing their tidal influence.  They were mostly wet earth, but had nearly no standing water – just a beautiful tree-shaped mass of small rivulets.  Nonetheless a great blue heron caught and devoured a small fish while we looked on.

Jared hadn’t visited most of these Los Angeles River sites since work on his book concluded in 2002.  I was happy to hear him express a lot of optimism in visiting parks today that had been barren then.  The Cornfield was a vacant railyard, now it’s Los Angeles State Historic Park.  The Dominguez Gap Wetlands are completed and open.  Maywood had a contaminated brownfield that’s now a riverfront park. Cudahy has a line of healthy sycamores and native shrubs along the South County Bike Trail where there had been only vacant right-of-way. Jenny remarked that it looks like Cudahy is the first city to green its entire riverfront (just under 3/4ths of a mile.)  In Cudahy we even encountered North East Trees’ crew working on another small linear park that’s slated to open next month.  Jared was glad to see that we creek freaks have kept at it and that our efforts are resulting in real change on the ground, bringing green public spaces to a region starved for it.

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