SEPULVEDA RECREATION BASIN, Calif. — As city councilmen Ed Reyes and Tony Cardenas carefully navigated their footsteps through mud and into strategically positioned kayaks, there seemed nothing particularly momentous about kayaking today in the Los Angeles River. Aside from the digital news cameras and lack of a dock, you’d never know that this paddling event stretched across layers of federal, state, county and city bureaucracies.
After all, there has never been a non-motorized boating program in the river. That’s never, as in never. And, for that matter, there has never been anything officially sanctioned and remotely recreational about hanging by — much less in — its perfumed waters. The Army Corps of Engineers had to sign off on the safety of the project, which is hoped to lead to a permanent yearly, seasonal, recreational boating program. (Note, the seasonal part …)
The two influential Los Angeles councilmen kicked off the pilot paddle that continues the progress of revitalizing our river after midday, under a bridge with cars zipping along overhead. An L.A. moment.
Beforehand around 100 listened to speeches with more enthusiasm than is found at the typical ribbon cutting. Environmental organizations, including Friends of the River, The River Project and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, lined one side of the small green park just above the launch site, and handed out fliers, t-shirts, and newsletters about their efforts to turn back the river clock to a time before its concrete channelization in the 1930s. Those efforts by the federal Army Corps of Engineers and local authorities came in the wake of disastrous flooding, which killed Angelinos and destroyed millions of dollars in private property.
The mainstream media, which largely ignores riverly happenings, were there in force, including Spanish language KMEX, with one reporter so busy tweeting from her station aboard a two-person kayak that Cardenas chided her, saying, “you’re supposed to out here enjoying nature.”
Councilperson Reyes said it best: “This is a moment when we get to make Angelinos believers. We are able to make them really believe that they have a river in their city. That there truly exists a whole ecosystem. Birds. Wildlife. Water that connects and drains into the ocean, an ocean that is dying.
“It’s a moment when we can look at a natural asset, set aside our biases, our prejudices, the ‘us vs. them, we live on this side of the tracks, they live on that side of the tracks,’ and talk about one city. And this river will get us there.”
Certainly the Obama administration feels the same way. The recent inclusion of the Los Angeles River — one of seven city waterways — in the Urban Waters Federal Partnership spotlights federal efforts to connect city neighborhoods to the water.
Even the National Park Service was on hand. “I think it’s essential if we are going to make these kinds of properties available to urban folks that we bring it in as close to their communities as possible. And this is a great demonstration of how to make it accessible … because this is where the starting point of building a stewardship ethic begins, right in their communities,” said Charles Thomas, Pacific West Regional Youth Programs Manager.
The pilot program is modest, with Fridays reserved for youth groups, and two public recreation-education trips, Saturdays and Sundays, from Aug. 13 to Sept. 25. Ten paddlers per trip will explore this natural mile and a half section of the river in the Sepulveda Recreation Basin with a ranger/naturalist from the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. Do the math and only 280 folks out of a county pushing 10 million will be able to participate. Tickets are $50, plus a $3.74 handling fee. This covers boat rental, safety equipment and insurance. Scramble for tickets here.
A snarky tweet from Kim Cooper summed up opposition to the plan: “Thinks it’s lame that people are being charged to kayak down the Los Angeles River, a public, navigable waterway. Tom Sawyer wouldn’t pay,” to which we can only reply, true, but it’s also no longer 1876.
The bigger question for readers of this blog: when do we get a pilot program for fly fishing the river? Fly rods and kayaks can make for excellent home water excursions!
See you on the river, Jim Burns