After years of thwarted attempts by activists, environmentalists,and elected officials to gain access for the public to the Los Angeles River, their visions have finally come true. Starting at Balboa Park, a 1.5 mile stretch of the Los Angeles River is now open for kayak/canoe rides on Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 25, starting at 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Fridays are reserved for youth groups.
A variety of guest speakers offer educational information about wildlife and the environment before, during, and after the tour. The $50 fee plus $3.75 for processing covers the cost of labor, equipment, vehicles, safety and docent training and insurance.
As of this date, all reservations are booked. Hopefully more spots will open up in the near future. Stay tuned to SC Patch for updates.
During the session I attended, MRCA (Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority) Rangers taught us how to row and keep ourselves safe during the two-and-a-half hour ride, enlightening us that we will get wet.
They explained that for safety reasons, time spent on the river is limited and weather conditions are constantly monitored for any evidence of rain or flooding. There’s a maximum of 15 passengers allowed, including five paddle instructors with ten kayaks and canoes, two per boat. One person must be paddling at all times.
We learned that the water’s been tested but not deemed healthy for drinking, so to insure no germs are passed, hand sanitizer is provided at the end of the journey. The MRCA Rangers carry bandaids, defibulators, and are trained in first aid and emergency care as part of the Swift Water Rescue Team.
We were reminded not to panic if we tip over because the Rangers are skilled to assist us and the river isn’t that deep. Constantly checking water changes upstream and monitoring weather conditions, there are efficient exit and escape plans to use if required.
We wore life jackets and helmets. We were admonished to travel light and leave all valuables in our cars although we could use special waterproof pouches for small items.
Our mandatory sturdy close toed shoes came in handy when we had to traverse the rocks and very slippery river bottom during patches too shallow to cross in the boats.
Melanie Winter of The River Project led the opening talk and stated that the Los Angeles River is 51 miles long and begins at Bell Creek in the Santa Susanna Mountains. It goes east through the San Fernando Valley, right at Griffith Park through Glendale at the Narrows, past downtown, and all the way to Long Beach.
The Tongva local indigenous cultures used to travel down the river. Winter reported how developers and businessman have been challenging the navigability of the river for a long time. They didn’t want to have to pay to do what it takes to clean it up, which would’ve been essential if protection was granted under the Clean Water Act.
Most of the Los Angeles River has a concrete bottom. It was cemented in after a series of floods washed away the edges of the river, particularly after a devastating flood in 1938 that killed more than 100 people. However, the 1.5 mile stretch used for the pilot program has its original bottom, making it easier to travel by canoe or kayak.
Because this particular section is behind the dam, it wasn’t necessary to put in cement to prevent flooding, continued Winter.
In 2008, before the river was deemed navigable and without permission from the city, the head tour guide of this seven week pilot program, George Wolfe, travelled down the entire 51 mile stretch of the Los Angeles River in three days.
Since then this project, whose goal is to eventually make the Los Angeles River a tourist destination, currently has been backed by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the MCRA, FoLAR (Friends of the Los Angeles River), and the River Project.
One participant was amazed by the amount of trees, grasses, and vegetation that line the banks of the River. He was surprised by the number of people along the banks, not in boats, but fishing and relaxing, not expecting to see all the large birds such as herons, hawks, and cormorants inhabiting the river.
Another passenger described the excursion as “being taken into another world, so to speak, i.e. in a rural area as opposed to the middle of the city where you can’t hear the sounds of the city or traffic, except for planes flying overhead.”
Everyone enjoyed simply riding down the middle of the river, floating along, serene, and carefree, a big switch from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles life. The real gift is no longer thinking of the L.A. River as a heap of garbage and a dumping ground. It’s a treasure we can relish, embracing the opportunity to preserve its beauty for generations to come.
Although the boat tours are booked, FoLAR is hosting four special docent-led, 90-minute river walks to offer a glimpse of the boaters floating downstream and to talk about river revitalization, access, and recreation. FoLAR river walks meet in the dirt parking lot of Anthony C. Beilenson Park near Lake Balboa in Encino at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3 and 10 and Sunday, Sept. 18 and 25.
Walks are free for current FoLAR members, and $10 for non-members. RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-223-0585.