April 3, 2011 § 2 Comments
Eyes on the L.A. River: I spotted some new exercise stations along the Los Angeles River at Marsh Park in Elysian Valley. Though both of these photos show the stations unused, I was happy to see them being tested out by a mother and her family taking a walk along the new river walk/bike path. Though they’re not listed on the website yet, they appear to be part of the Trust for Public Land’s Fitness Zone program that installs these types of exercise in parks in parks in L.A.’s densely-populated neighborhoods. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 22, 2010 § 1 Comment
Our concrete rivers and creeks are dangerous during heavy rains; don’t take our word for it, watch No Way Out! What’s fun to visit in the rain are the adjacent rainwater harvesting sites: watershed management parks and green steets. L.A. Creek Freak didn’t quite get to Elmer Avenue in Sun Valley, Bicknell Avenue in Santa Monica, or those city of Downey swales… if anyone has reports on any of those sites, please post comments!
Over the past couple rainy days Creek Freak did pay visits to Marsh Park, Riverdale Avenue and the Bimini Slough Ecology Park. Reports below!
July 10, 2010 § 4 Comments
With the above forty-one words restoring disputed federal protections to the Los Angeles River, it’s been a pretty excellent week for local creeks and their human friends. The federal navigability and protection issues were very hot when this blog was getting started back in mid-2008, so it’s a treat to see them resolved this week. We thought we’d do some wrap-up with some of the primary documents behind this week’s announcement and then a round-up of what we’ve written about the issue before. (Also, next week, we’re hoping to do some editorializing about what the determination means for the future… and why navigability as a test for federal protection for clean water may not be the best way forward for healthy creeks.)
First off, the actual document that states that the entire L.A. River is navigable – a 6 July 2010 letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District District Engineer Colonel Mark Toy :
March 31, 2009 § 4 Comments
Something collided with the Great Heron Gate! As I biked past it this morning, only the right panel of the gate is standing. The doorway at the left of the gate is bent back. There’s yellow police tape strung across the space where the missing panel was. It looks like a car collided with it. I hope the missing panel is not irreparably damaged.
The Great Heron Gate was designed by sculptor Brett Goldstone. It was commissioned by the Friends of the Los Angeles River, with funding from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. The gate was dedicated nearly 10 years ago, on Earth Day 1999, and is the very first example of artistic gates welcoming folks onto the Los Angeles River. It’s located on the east side of Fletcher Drive near Ripple Drive in Frogtown, just south of the 1927 Fletcher Drive Bridge, at the entrance to Rattlesnake Park.
Decorative river gates have now become a cottage industry. Other great Goldstone gates are featured at the northeast side of Fletcher, Marsh Park, Steelhead Park, Acresite Street, Maywood Riverfront Park, Rio Vista Park (on the Rio Hondo), Centinela Avenue Park (on Ballona Creek), Whittier Narrows Nature Center (on the San Gabriel River) and many others. Other artists have gotten into the act and created welcoming gates into waterways in Los Feliz, Studio City, and South El Monte.
Please leave a comment if you can let us know what happened to the Heron Gates! I will try to post some photos of the damage shortly – check back on Creek Freak very frequently – help drive up our statistics so we can sell out lucratively! Images posted above taken this morning, and below of how it used to look.
December 13, 2008 § 1 Comment
In the spirit of shameless self-promotion to spur a huge rush of Christmas, winter solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Eid al-Adha sales for my “wonderful book” Down by the Los Angeles River (a bargain at only $17.95 – published by the good folks at Wilderness Press and available at good bookstores throughout the known universe, and of-course on-line,) Creek Freak presents the following, mostly-unedited email correspondence from my friend Elon Schoenholz. Elon is a photographer (check out his photo site with a fine photo blog) and one of the folks who (with me and Ron Milam who also blogs, sometimes about Ballona Creek) got the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition started. (If you’ve already got multiple copies of my book, you might want to do some holiday shopping at the LACBC’s virtual holiday store.)
Without further ado (and with fewer pesky hyperlinks), Elon’s correspondence:
How are you? All’s well here. I went with my wife and daughter for yet another L.A. River walk guided by your wonderful book this past weekend. We walked the Glendale Narrows portion, AKA Frogtown from the writing on the walls and ground.
It was a beautiful day and we saw a ton of birds and were nearly attacked by an unaccompanied pit bull mix (ended without bloodshed) and otherwise had a fantastic time.
Some of our best family outings have been thanks to your book.
I hope you’re well.
[At this point, I responded asking Elon if it would be ok for me to run his email in this here blog, and if Elon would provide a photo or three to accompany it.]
Yeah, it was beautiful. We saw coots and ducks and geese (big), terns (I think) and at least one great white egret (very big); some locals fishing; the most graffiti I’ve ever seen in a single day. I hadn’t been on that stretch since the 2nd River Ride, and then I was too busy taking photos to notice anything.
I didn’t take too many photos on our walk last weekend because I find it gets in the way of experience for me, but here are a few. I was particularly fascinated by the pastoral bike parking setup. Also, maybe you can make out the FOLAR sticker on the front of Nusia’s stroller. You sent it with the book.
I read your blog (found it through Erik and Kelly’s a couple of months ago) and enjoy it and would be absolutely amenable to that.
[In the spirit of getting folks to the river: the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority's Marsh Park is a good spot to start your Elysian Valley, also called Frogtown, river walk. The park is located at 2930 Marsh Street in Elysian Valley, Los Angeles 90039. It's an excellent place to walk along and explore the mighty Los Angeles.]
December 1, 2008 § 2 Comments
Creek Freak continues our exhausting alliterative four part series on the navigability rippling through the waters of the mighty Los Angeles:
Part 1 – Of Nexus and Navigability, a lament for our waterways
Part 2 – Journalistic Journeys
Part 3 – The Boater, the Biologist, and the Blogs
Part 4 – Action Alert
Of Nexus and Navigability – Part 3, The Boater, the Biologist and the Blogs
By way of background, federal waterway protections are being weakened through recent governmental decisions. For the federal Clean Water Act to protect a river, creek or stream, it must be a “traditionally navigable waterway” or have a “significant nexus” to one. See Part 1 for more detailed background and historical accounts of boating. See Part 2 for some 20th century accounts of boating. And this blog is where we bring boating into the present day.
A couple years ago, while I was working at Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR), I got an email from George Wolfe who runs the Lala Times – a website mostly humor/parody site that bills itself as “California satire, wierd and bizarre news.” I have to confess that, at first, I mistakenly thought that I had been contacted by the LA Times and was always quick to respond to media requests. I soon spoke with George, a boater (who kayaks and canoes) with a idea to do a big expedition down the Los Angeles River.
George and I kept in touch. At one of our lunches discussing possible expedition parameters, he pulled out the most raggedly well-used copy of my book that I’d ever seen. He’d done a lot of advance scouting and even some negotiations with the County Flood Control District and the Army Corps. of Enginneer to permit the trip. The date was set for July 25th-27th 2008.
I met up with George for a trial run a week ahead of the expedition. We put in just below the Los Feliz Boulevard Bridge and kayaked down to the best rapid on the whole river, just below Marsh Park in Frogtown. Under the tutelage of FoLAR’s Denis Schure, I had been in a kayak a couple of times briefly in a calm nearly-currentless stretch of the Los Angeles, adjacent to Balboa Boulevard in the Sepulveda Basin. After kayaking that sweet well-flowing natural stretch with George, I was excited and hooked at how fun it was! I was disappointed in myself that I had been around the river all these years and hadn’t boated there often.
The three-day expedition was a blast. You can read my blog account of it here: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. There is a fair amount of documentation now online, including this recent trailer for a planned documentary feature about the trip:
Army Corps of Engineers biologist Heather Wylie accompanied the second day of the trip. She was later threatened with a 90-day unpaid suspension from work for participating. It turns out that her superiors didn’t know of her participation until they saw this photo of her posted on the LAist blog. Some links to her story are available here and an excellent editorial she wrote is linked here. Check out this short video where she tells you some of her stories:
The kayak expedition, in addition to being lots of fun and a great workout, proved to me personally that the vast majority of the Los Angeles is indeed very navigable. There are a few spots that required some portaging, mostly in the San Fernando Valley, but certainly all the way from the 134 Freeway downstream to Long Beach are easily kayaked any day of the year. Contrast this with the Army Corps of Engineers’ designation of only two short stretches (in the Sepulveda Basin and in Long Beach) as navigable. We’ve still got a long way to go in convincing our public agencies to respect the Los Angeles River.
Next: Part 4 – Action Alert – wherein you, the reader, take action on assuring federal protections for western waters. **12/3/2008 - Correction: this is an important meeting that’s still happening – but it’s not about navigability. Navigability meeting is a different one planned for December 16th – more info about that soon! Also, plan to attend the city of Los Angeles’ public meeting this Thursday night from 5:30pm to 8:30pm at the Metropolitan Water District in downtown Los Angeles. The meeting will include a presentation on and an opportunity to comment on the navigability issues.
September 11, 2008 § 6 Comments
This creek freak be leading a guided river walk in Elysian Valley (or Frogtown) - one of the nicest parts of the Los Angeles River. It’s part of the 2008 Frogtown Artwalk, so you can do the walk, then check out local studios and galleries.
The walk takes place at 4:30pm on Saturday September 20th, departing from AGPS Architecture at 2413 Ripple Street (at Clearwater Street – one block downstream from Fletcher Drive), Los Angeles 90039.
It’s free. No rsvp required – just show up. The walk is along one of the nicest soft-bottom sections of the river, with willows, sycamores, ducks, turtles, fish, egrets, herons, and cormorants. There’s also the wonderful 1927 Fletcher Drive Bridge, two pocket parks – Rattlesnake Park and Marsh Park, and beautiful artistic gates by Brett Goldstone. I’ll be giving a brief talk, then we’ll do a non-strenous walk for about 90 minutes. See you down by the river.
July 29, 2008 § 5 Comments
Day three was exhausting. We put in at Marsh Park in Elysian Valley and paddled our way to the river’s mouth in Long Beach. This is about 25 miles, more than 20 of which are three-sides concrete. A quick apology – I didn’t take any cell phone photos that day. It seemed like there were lots of photographers all over much of the time taking photos – see links at the end of the blog below for excellent photos – especially LAist and Ted Soqui. I did paint one watercolor of the river at Marsh Park, while we were running late on the put in.
Marsh Park is located in the Glendale Narrows, pretty much the nicest stretch of the whole river. Due to groundwater coming up in this area, the bottom of the river is unpaved, so there are lots of tall willows, turtles, ducks, heron, egret, and more. It’s where people who visit for the first time gasp and say “wow – it is a river!” Also at Marsh Park are the best rapids of the whole river. It’s a short chute that has plenty of slope and plenty of flow. Very fun, but it also can capsize folks like me who haven’t had much kayaking experience. On a test run, a week in advance of the trip, I did flip my kayak, though on a second try and on the official expedition, I was able to shoot through it unscathed. A few of crew flipped and received a river baptism that morning. The trick is not to lean upstream, so the river doesn’t catch the lip of your boat.
The next two miles were very nice, despite a few spots where we’d get stuck among rocks and have to portage a bit. It’s plenty navigable, and very beautiful. I kayaked up at to two older Latina women and a man whom I chatted with a bit with. They said, in Spanish, that they were harvesting “yerba mora” and another plant, which they used to make soups.
Just upstream of the Riverside/Figueroa Bridge the soft-bottom stretch ends and the all-concrete canyon begins. We gathered the troops and spoke a bit about the historic confluence with the Arroyo Seco and a bit about safety, then started down the concrete low-flow channel.
We cruised under the great historic City Beautiful bridges. The North Broadway Bridge (originally and formally the Buena Vista Viaduct) located along the Cornfields is the great early progenitor of the series. It features some of the earliest compound arches made of concrete – a technological advance that made the understructure of the bridges lighter, though still majestic. As we went under each of the historic spans, I was noticing that as time progressed (ie: the later date that the bridges were built), the understructures become lighter and more airy. Unfortunately, as time progressed, these become so light that they skip the arch and just put the straight flat girder across.
There was a construction site at the First Street Bridge, where crews are widening the bridge to make space for more cars… er… I mean to make space for the eastside extension of the Metro Gold Line, while allowing for lots of cars. I am cynical about this because nearly all these bridges had streetcars running down them originally, and now when we want to run the trains down them again, the experts tell us that we have to tear out the original structures. The First Street Bridge widening isn’t as bad as some others proposed. I will write more about the threatened bridge demolitions in other posts later. We portaged around the low temporary construction bridges and continued downstream.
I was surprised at how shallow the low flow channel is. When I’ve led tours of the river, I get questions about how deep it is, and I’ve always responded that it’s 3-4 feet deep, based on seeing folks in it occasionally… but actually being in it, paddling a kayak, I now realize that it’s quite shallow. My paddle was frequently scraping bottom. It’s really only 1-2 feet deep. That doesn’t sound like a lot of water, but it’s enough to float a kayak – without much scraping – yay! It can still be a bit treacherous to cross on foot – the water is moving fairly fast and the sloped sides can be pretty slippery.
Near the Washington Boulevard Bridge and the start of the city of Vernon, the walls of the channel go from sloped (trapezoidal channel) to vertical (box channel.) The river makes a left turn. The smells get bad and the low flow channel splits and gets shallower. I had expected that we’d have to portage this area, but were able to float and scrape and get by. The walls go trapezoidal again and the central low-flow channel resumes where the river flows under Bandini Boulevard in Vernon.
I have to say that I was somewhat impressed with the stark featurelessness of the river below Bandini. Seems like nearly everywhere in nature there are differences and variety, but, here on the river in southeast Los Angeles, there is surprisingly little variation in slope – for miles. The engineers and the construction crews did a great job of creating a nearly entirely continuous smooth unrelenting gradual drop all the way from downtown to the ocean. There are a very few places where the slope increases slightly – very short drops, often after bridges, and one small chute around Southern Avenue in South Gate. If the slope were more uneven, perhaps there would be more problems with sediment settling out of the water. It’s an impressive feat of engineering.
I was also impressed with how nature is reclaiming the river. In many places, from the mouth of the Arroyo Verdugo, to just upstream of Willow Street in Long Beach, there’s a fair amount of vegetation growing either through the cracks or on a layer of silt atop a concrete bottom. Most of the vegetation is opportunistic weedy, but there are occasional cattails and even willows. Even in middle of Vernon (at a location I don’t want to disclose for fear of alerting the flood control bulldozer crews), I saw a 10-foot tall willow tree growing out of the concrete along the low flow channel. This vegetation creates eddies, slowing down the water, causing it to deposit sediment, building up sandbars and making way for more vegetation. It’s nature’s cycle of reclaiming disturbed areas. Microorganisms move in, then bugs, then ducks. It’s great to see it starting to happen in the concrete moonscape areas downstream.
We stopped for lunch at Maywood Riverfront Park, located at Slauson Avenue. I checked out the now-open park; its opening had been delayed for years due to concerns over possible contamination from a chemical factory that occupied a portion of the site. There were lots of families enjoying their Sunday afternoon and the recently-very-pristine ball fields were showing signs of plenty of use – a good sign in my book. The adjacent mini-park built by North East Trees looked good too, though it’s clear that the battle against graffiti has resulted in a lot of beige paint coating the river rock retaining walls.
We continued downstream. The concrete gets pretty relentless. Though I am not a big fan of them, I was actually really glad to see the Adel Rakhshani murals in the city of Paramount, as they helped break up the unrelenting grayness of it all.
There were quite a few birds hanging out in the all-concrete channel, including black-necked stilts, gulls, ducks, killdeer, and occasional herons and egrets. Closer to the ocean we saw more shorebirds – a few different types that I am not too good at identifying. As Jeff Tipton and I kayaked under a bridge, one black-necked stilt, with three cute small stiltlings in tow, became very animated. She (I am assuming it was a female) shrieked and flew near us, keeping just ahead of us, seemingly trying to draw our attention to her and away from her kids. Small families of ducks would swim in the channel. When l saw them downstream in front of me, I would kayak faster to catch up with them. The mother duck would corral her youngsters getting them to do their wobbly half-runnning double-speed maneuver to evade their pursuer. The ducklings would pop underwater to get away as I passed them. My other trick to punctuate the monotony of the lower river would be to paddle strongly to each bridge, then to slow and coast and rest in the precious shade underneath.
The way was only slightly punctuated by passing landmarks that I was familiar with. In the city of South Gate, the river’s confluence with the Rio Hondo was very anonymous. I almost didn’t notice it. The broad channel hardly contributed any flow to the LA River. The historic 1937 concrete-railing Atlantic Boulevard Bridge marked our entry into Long Beach. I thought that, at least, now we could say that we’d made it to Long Beach… though we still had a good half-dozen miles to go. Soon thereafter we passed the mouth of Compton Creek.
The concrete bottom ends at Willow Street in Long Beach. The river widens a bit more there, so the engineers added features to create turbulence to make the river spread out to to it’s full width. Before the bridge are a series of concrete block baffles. Unfortunately this meant another short portage. Where the concrete ends and the estuary begins is a fairly good looking place when you’re walking and bird-watching above it… but when you’re down in the water, it’s kinda nasty. This is another thing I learned from this trip. At the very start of each of the three areas where the concrete ends (below the Orange Line Bridge in Sepulveda Basin in the San Fernando Valley, at Bette Davis Picnic Area, and at the estuary in Long Beach), there are nasty smelling areas with duckweed and small bubbles of foul-smelling gas surfacing. When I stepped in the sediments in these areas, my foot sunk down into the quicksand-like sediment sending up clouds of gunky black cloudy water.
We pushed on down a very nice short rapids and came into the tidal zone of the river. Signs on the bridges told us that all kinds of activities weren’t allowed here, but that if we did them, we’d have to keep within a 5 mph speed limit. We saw more cormorants, herons, pelicans, and occasional fish jumping out of the water.
The sun was beginning to set as we rounded the final bend and caught sight of the Queen Mary. Lots of families were fishing from the breakwater. We passed beneath the Queensway Bay Bridge, pulled up along the breakwater and pulled out at Shoreline Park. Families and friends were there to greet us. We began to tell our tales and to speculate on future trips down our very navigable local waterway.
Here are some links to trip photos/articles/blogs:
July 27, 2008 § 2 Comments
The second day of kayaking, in which the crew puts in at the Sepulveda Dam and takes out in Frogtown, was considerably more exhausting than the first. If this entry is shorter than the last, it’s because the day was longer.
On my bus ride in, I spied a gentleman across from me reading the Daily News. I asked to look and sure enough there were photographs and a very short text about the kayak expedition. The print edition even features this photo of me. Folks have mentioned that the L.A. Times also ran a photo… but I can’t seem to find it on their website.
There was a delay in getting things going at the preordained 9am start time, so Connor Everts and I put in at Burbank Boulevard and cruised our kayaks back upstream into the Sepulveda Basin. We saw ~5 carp, plentiful heron and even a turtle. Urban nature writer extraordinaire Jenny Price gave her talk. I’ve heard it before, but I really like what she says about the river. Take one of her tours if you get the chance. And we were off.
First portage (that’s where you walk, dragging the canoe… not all that fun) was immediately under the Sepulveda Dam. These photos are from my cell phone, which I really did want to keep dry, so I didn’t take too many and only in places where there wasn’t too much water splashing. I like to run more pictures of the greener parts of the river, but I was busy kayaking there, so you’re getting concrete shots today.
We were able to kayak through much of the East Valley – Sherman Oaks and Studio City. Not a great deal of water, so there was some scraping, and occasional brief portaging. We encountered a truck of county maintenance workers in the channel. I showed them my saran-wrapped sign stating “FILM PERMIT”, with the permit number, and they let us continue unmolested. We stopped for lunch at the ramp at Coldwater Canyon Avenue. Folks were in good spirits. The channel hadn’t been easy, but not too difficult.
Just east of Radford Avenue in Studio City (at CBS Studio Center), the flat bottom channel that we had been traversing gives way to what’s called a low flow channel. It’s basically a notch in the middle of the flat concrete channel, especially designed for fast, easy kayaking… er… I mean… designed to keep the flow in one place to make for easy maintenance. The initial lip of the low flow channel can be a little tricky, potentially dangerous – sort of a stair-step waterfall rapid. We took our kayaks out before it, lowered them in after and were on our way. At the east end of CBS, the Tujunga Wash meets the L.A. River. Visible from the Colfax Avenue Bridge, it’s a sort of wye made of notches, easy to shoot though on a kayak.
The low flow channel water moves fast, and it’s actually plenty deep, so it was certainly the most pleasurable and fastest moving part of today’s leg, though I found myself paddling quickly and sometimes bouncing off the sides, until I got the hang of it. The things you can do in a rental canoe! All good things must end… and the low flow channel peters out in the area around Forest Lawn. The picture at the left is looking back (west) upstream, with the Griffith Park hillside on the left and Burbank on the right. We then walked about a mile, canoes in tow, until we arrived at the soft-bottom stretch alongside Bette Davis Picnic Area. We were greeted there by supporters who buoyed our spirits with ice cream and cold drinks (thanks Ramona of Friends of the LA River!).
And this is where our troubles began… Most of the folks were smart and decided to portage (via truck) down to Atwater River Walk. But a few intrepid (or perhaps foolhardy) souls continued in the channel. The next couple miles either contain lots of rocks positioned perfectly to immobilize foolhardy (or perhaps intrepid) kayakers, or, like the photo on the left, have expansive flat areas with only a few inches of sheet flow. The picture shows Jeff Tipton portaging before the 134 Freeway. The shot is downstream, where you make a right turn and can actually start to see the downtown skyscrapers in the distance (though you need a better camera than my cell phone to prove this… you’ll just have to take my word for it.) Griffith Park is on his right and the Arroyo Verdugo (which runs through Glendale) is on his left. Just downstream (a mere 15-minute walk), there’s a rocky area that looks like it should be kayakable… but I kept going for about 20 seconds before getting caught on rocks. I ended up pulling out and towing my boat on the east side of the river. I would see an area that looked good, put back in, then get stuck again. Perhaps a lighter and/or more experienced kayaker could navigate it better. I found it pretty frustrating.
Just downstream of Colorado Street, the Los Angeles-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant pumps out about 3 million gallon a day of tertiary treated water… and the kayakers are back in business… albeit exhausted by this point. We continued downstream, under the Los Feliz Bridge (another brief portage) then met up with the rest of the group. A police helicopter was circling overhead, and two uniformed LAPD officers greeted us at the Sunnynook Footbridge. They had received a call. I showed them the magic aumulet… er… film permit and they looked it over and over and asked to see it again and conferred and looked again… and told us we could proceed. (One of them told us that he’s a kayaker.)
The stretches below the LA-Glendale Plant are very pleasant. There are areas where you get trees and other vegetation on both sides and it feels like you’re not in L.A. anymore. Once we passed under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, we were greeted by a tribe of mudpeople (surreal tribal L.A. performance troupe) and another group of dancers (a group I don’t have the name for) all dressed in flowing white dresses. We lingered and spectated, then continued downstream.
We crossed under the Fletcher Drive Bridge. In the deeper (comparatively) water area under and downstream of the 2 Freeway, we encountered families, couples and individuals sitting on the sloped concrete wall with their fishing lines in, waiting. We asked and it sounded like folks hadn’t caught much that day, but they appeared to be having fun – hanging out, pointing at the nutty gabacho kayakers scaring off their carp.
We took out at Marsh Park where Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority staff were telling stories with a dozen kids around a campfire. I am sore and tired… but I will be back out on the Mighty Los Angeles at 9am with my prow pointed toward Long Beach.