Places to Visit: Rio Vista Park in El Monte
September 23, 2008 § 6 Comments
(This is the first in a “Places to Visit” series. I hope we’ll blog about various parks/streams/places and other noteworthy spots so that you, my faithful readers, can go and visit and enjoy these places!)
I first visited Rio Vista Park as part of last week’s conference on the San Gabriel River. Rio Vista Park is located on the Rio Hondo in the city of El Monte. It’s slightly difficult to find as it’s tucked away in a residential neighborhood, but well worth it. The address is 4275 Ranger Avenue, El Monte CA 91731. It’s on the west bank of the Rio Hondo directly across from the El Monte Airport, and a short walk or bike ride upstream from the El Monte Transit Center. (Note that the park is on the opposite side as the Upper Rio Hondo Bike Trail – to get there from the bike path, go west on Valley, right on Arden, right on Bisby and right on Shasta)
The current Rio Vista Park, which opened June 2008, is a rehabilitation and expansion project of an existing small park – and the site has a good hybrid/palimpsest feel of an older site that has been enriched by recent additions. The project was spearheaded by Amigos de los Rios partnering with the County of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and the city of El Monte. It’s part of what Amigos de los Rios call the Emerald Necklace – a large string of parks on the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River.
The park celebrates multiple histories of the site, from the Tongva Native Americans to Hick’s Camp. Shade structures (visible in the picture on the left) are designed to resemble Tongva kich (pronunced “keesh”) housing made of thatched willow cuttings. Informational signage details the Tongva names and uses for native plants growing on-site.
Hick’s Camp was a colonia – a longstanding village that housed working class families, mostly immigrant agricultural workers. Hicks Camp occupied the park site and most of the surrounding neighborhood beginning from 1900 until it was demolished in the early 1970’s. Former residents of Hick’s Camp still gather for reunions. The park commemorates this history with a listing of the the names of Hick’s Camp families and a large camp map both etched in the sidewalk at the park entrance at Ranger Avenue. Interpretive signage explains the history of the site with time lines and historic photos. These tell important stories including the 1933 Berry Strike and the 1940’s successes in desegregating El Monte schools. Historic photos show the youth of the camp swimming and playing in the adjacent, still-natural Rio Hondo.
The park features an ample grassy area, picnic tables, a tot lot (with playful child-activated running water features) and an exercise course. The site features bioswales that detain and infiltrate stormwater. The plentiful new vegetation along the Rio Hondo is all native, with plenty of oak trees. Surrounding the park are more great gates by artist Brett Goldstone.
When folks from the conference visited the park last Tuesday night, there were plenty of local families using the park for walking, sitting and exercising. Mothers walked with strollers; kids cruised on the bmx bicycles. The winged residents were at home there, too: A small raptor (which we think was a juvenile Coopers Hawk) flew in and rested a while on a eucalyptus branch. We walked and toured the park, and looked east out over the Rio Hondo running wet in a concrete canyon and imagined what this place was and what it will be again.