Flowing by the Fairways 2: The Santa Ana River’s Riverview Golf Course

March 27, 2012 § 5 Comments

Egrets along the Santa Ana River in the middle of Santa Ana's Riverview Golf Course.

Kudos to Jessica on yesterday’s post about reaching détente between golf courses and healthy creeks. Her examples are instructive, but there’s at least one more somewhat interesting local example – on the Santa Ana River in Orange County. I alluded to it near the end of this earlier Santiago Creek post; the River View Golf Course contains Santiago Creek’s confluence with the Santa Ana River. It’s located near the intersection of the 5, 22, and 57 Freeways, not far from Anaheim Stadium (map below.)

I grew up bicycling along the Santa Ana River. Much of the lower Santa Ana River looks quite a bit like the lower L.A. River does. From the city of Santa Ana to near Huntington Beach, the Santa Ana river is three sides trapezoidal concrete, with a trickle of water flowing in a central notch (known as the “low flow channel.”) Because the area is so different than the rest, I always remember the River View Golf Course as the one really green part of an otherwise very grey concrete river. It wasn’t green in the ecological sense – it was green in the manicured grass sense.

Just upstream from the Riverview Golf Course, the Santa Ana River has concrete sides and a wide sandy soft-bottom kept free of vegetation.

The Santa Ana River near Angel's Stadium in Anaheim - sandy bottom, maintained for groundwater recharge

From there, cyclists heading downstream pass under the 22 freeway, and suddenly it all turns green.

The Santa Ana River running through the Riverview Golf Course. View upstream from the bike path on the west bank.

The whole golf course is shaped like a valley, with a river running down the middle. This promotional video shows just how great the place is:

Though the river isn’t managed for habitat, or even for a natural appearance, nature slips in where we let her. The photo at the top of the post shows a large pond, located in the river channel, and the pond is apparently popular with the local egrets.

And, all good things must end. The green ends pretty abruptly:

The downstream end of the Santa Ana River's Riverview Golf Course. View upstream from the west bank bike path.

It transitioning to the all-concrete channel, which continues nearly to the ocean:

The trapezoidal all-concrete Santa Ana River channel, just downstream of the Riverview Golf Course - visible at the top of the photo. View upstream from bike/ped bridge near 17th Street.

What does this example say to us about river restoration and revitalization? While it’s not a shining example of a healthy creek, it is definitely multi-use. It’s a landscape that accomplishes quite a bit of flood “control”, while providing recreation and even commerce.

Some purists will probably cringe, but this site makes me think of the possibilities for doing sports facilities in the base of the Los Angeles River. Imagine grassy soccer fields along the bottom of the channel in Maywood and Pico Aliso (Boyle Heights near downtown L.A.), even hardscape basketball courts, skate ramps, tot lots, etc. in the concrete-bottom channel. Of course, people and equipment would need to be evacuated during rains… and that still yields 300+ days/year of recreation.

The Riverview Golf Course website includes a page on course conditions, which makes me suspect that the golf course has some intermittent maintenance issues from floodwaters carrying debris, pollution, and trash. I suspect that the flood protection agencies probably weren’t too happy with leaving the course like it is, when the river was “improved,” but I bet the course got started a long time ago and was grandfathered in.

If habitat was a priority, the course could be maintained a bit differently. The central riparian corridor could use more native vegetation and less wall-to-wall grass. Bicycling past and looking it over makes me think that it has possibilities. I expect that it’s a lot easier to get from grassy golf course to healthier creek… compared to streams where the entire bed is smothered by concrete.

(Thanks to Jessica for raising the golf course meets creek issues!)


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§ 5 Responses to Flowing by the Fairways 2: The Santa Ana River’s Riverview Golf Course

  • Mike Letteriello says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve driven by this spot on my way to the 57 FWY many times and have perennially wondered just what exactly this was.
    Do you have to access this via the golf course only?

  • Mike Letteriello says:

    Hey, I’m still willing to walk a piece!

  • water damage repair orlando says:

    Jessica I agree, I would love to bike the whole distance of the river, I have only been to the river 2 times (I live in florida but have family in CA) I plan to go out to CA this summer and I might add the santa ana river bike ride to my list of things to do! 🙂

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