The ceremonial launch of the seven-week pilot program for non-motorized boating down a three-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River took place today at Balboa Park. This was a celebratory moment for many because public access to the Los Angeles River has finally come to pass after years of struggle to get approval.
Los Angeles Councilman Tony Cardenas of Council District 6 was the host and opened the media event stressing the importance of keeping the L.A. River habitat safe and teaching Angelenos “to be better stewards” of the environment.
He thanked fellow Councilman Ed Reyes, of the 1st District, who was also in attendance, for his dedication to the project. He indicated that Reyes had this mission in his heart and mind even before becoming a councilman.
Cardenas told the crowd that his father had been a gardener who took him to work every day and that he’s proud to now have his hands in the dirt.
He quoted his father saying, “If you take care of the dirt, the dirt will take care of you.” Then he introduced Reyes as “our number one steward for our waterways.”
Reyes seemed touched by the audience response when he said that this is one of the moments that “makes Angelenos believers” in a whole ecosystem out there of birds, plants, trees.
He encouraged people to look at the river as a “natural asset,” to “leave aside bias” and to “talk about one city.” Reyes said the L.A. River can get us to this goal which he began in 1991.He mentioned the program’s benefit of allowing us to use the river as a classroom for job training, creating jobs for our youth because “nothing stops a bullet better than a job.”
Reyes said he hoped President Obama was listening, so he could be reminded how in the 1930s thousands of jobs were created by putting cement in the rivers and how now we can hopefully create thousands of jobs by taking the cement out.
Bruce Saito, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, called this whole project a “labor of love” and an “incredible challenge over the years.” He specified how this pilot program will have two excursions each day for the public on Saturday and Sunday mornings and on Fridays for youth groups with a total of 10 kayaks running throughout.
Saito pronounced the river as the city’s “best kept secret” and was glad to be able to “expose people to the value and importance of the L.A. River.”
Colonel R. Mark Toy, Los Angeles District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a decorated award honored member of the U.S. Army who won medals for his service in Iraq, read from his notes revealing that safety concerns are a #1 priority. He articulated feeling privileged to help shape the future role of the river’s recreational activities.
The colonel shared with the attentive listeners about how on the second day of his job as commander, he was with Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency when she declared the L.A. River “navigable.” He expressed gratitude to Obama for sponsoring the outdoor initiative program reconnecting Americans to their waterways.
Dressed in full uniform while attending the event, the colonel mentioned to Patch before the formal proceedings began, that this was the “fruit of our efforts culminating and starting here.” He stressed the significance of balancing flood risk management with habitate restoration and human health and safety.
The colonel pointed out that the L.A. Conservation Corps would have to check in with them each week to make sure there was no rain in the forecast and that they were running the pilot program at this time because it’s the non rainy season.
Joe Edmiston, of the Mountains Recreational Conservation Authority (MRCA), spoke about their goal of carrying this forward not just as a media event, but “day in day out, year in year out,” so there’s a full program where citizens can embrace the L.A. River.
Finally, George Wolfe, journalist/activist who in 2008 organized a 50-mile kayak trip down the L.A. River to prove it was navigable, and currently tour guide for the entire program, came to the podium. This is “a step towards putting the river back in the river,” he declared. He’s excited to be able to teach residents to “better manage our river for future generations.”
Afterwards, everyone went over to the entrance of the River where several kayaks were waiting for the passengers to be loaded into. Councilman Reyes brought his 23-year-old daughter with him for the ride and joked that the last time he was in a boat was when he was 11 years old.
All the parties were donned with life jackets and helmets as they entered the kayaks and began paddling down the river. It was a momentous and joyous occasion evident from the smiles and laughter. The boaters seemed ecstatic to participate in this historic experience and they were cheered as they began their notable journey down the L.A. River.
How to get tickets down the River:
Tickets for outfitted and guided kayak & canoe trips for the public will go on sale online Tuesday, Aug. 9 at 7 a.m. Tickets are very limited for this program, but it is hoped that boating will be made available again in future seasons, and potentially in additional areas of the Los Angeles River.
Boating trips will take place on Saturdays and Sundays starting August 13 - September 25. Each date will offer one run at 7AM and one run at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $50 each (plus handling fee) to cover the cost of labor, equipment, vehicles, safety & docent training, and insurance. A variety of guest speakers will offer educational information about wildlife and the environment during the summer program.