Water Geek ISO Los Angeles River

la_river_1.jpgI love water. I love rivers.  And when I travel, it’s not unusual for me to want to find the local river or water body. As the former Executive Director of the Milwaukee Riverkeeper®, I have a special place in my heart for urban rivers and the challenges they and their human neighbors face. But in the mythos of urban rivers, the Los Angeles River is Mecca.

Of course everybody has heard of the Los Angeles River, and seen it (or what remains of it) in movies, most notably “Chinatown.”  I first became aware of the challenges of this river after a staff member of Friends of the Los Angeles River described to me the story of the Army Corps of Engineers’ plans to remove Clean Water Act protection from the river and the acts of civil disobedience that led to the river’s reversal of fortunes.  Like a comatose patient on life support, authorities were ready to pull the plug and let the patient die.

Last year I blogged about the Los Angeles River, and the film “Rock the Boat,” which told the story of some gutsy people who insisted that the patient still had active brain waves, and was capable of a full recovery. So when work recently took me to downtown Los Angeles, I decided I needed to go see this river for myself.

I had looked on a map and surmised that the river was less than two miles from my hotel, but I also inquired with the front desk attendant to see if he might have a running map that would show me the best route. The hotel’s running route was perhaps a portent of things to come: he handed me a card with a route that was (I kid you not) a perfect two-mile rectangle around the cluster of high-rises that included the hotel. When I told him that I had hoped to get to the Los Angeles River instead – I had to say it twice before he comprehended my request – he assured me that there was a path along the river, the side that I’d be approaching on. He knew, or at least said he knew, because he runs there with his running club.

So off I set, with visions of riverside paths in my head. I wound my way through downtown and Little Tokyo until I sensed that I was near the river. But finding the river itself proved to be a challenge. The only paths along the river that I could find in that region were ones with two rails, crossties, and parked locomotives. Even those were well beyond accessibility.

I never did find the trail that the young man said he ran along, but I did eventually find the river. The pictures below give you a sense of my journey, but hopefully they also give you deep respect for the vision and pluck of the people of Los Angeles who are determined to revive this river, bring people and wildlife back to its shores.  The plan to revitalize the river is awesome, in the true sense of the word.

I took this dead end street (Ducommun St.?), thinking that the river would be on the other side of the Jersey barriers.

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But when I looked through the fence, all I saw was a taller barrier.

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So I went a few blocks south and tried another dead end street. The river is out there somewhere, but I still couldn’t see it.

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From there I continue south to the 1st Street bridge which is elevated so I needed to go a few blocks east to even get onto 1st Street.

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Once I was up there I jogged past the buildings and looked down, only to see multiple rows of railroad tracks.

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Fifty yards further, from the crest of the bridge, I found the river.

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Most cities have challenges with their rivers.  Channelized stretches, legacy pollutants, mercury-laden fish, leaking sewage.  But seeing the Los Angeles River for myself gives me new perspective on the determination and long-range thinking needed to restore this river.

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