3rd Stop: Glendale Narrows
This is the most “river like” of all the stops we made, with rocks lining the river bed. There was even someone kayaking here! However, the guides did not recommend that we do this. There may be birds swimming in the river, but the water is still mostly treated sewage, with high levels of bacteria, hydrocarbons, metals, and other pollutants.
The Glendale Narrows have a more natural appearance because groundwater bubbles up through the bed of the river here. This forced the Army Corps to avoid concreting the river bottom, and instead leave the channel lined with boulders and pebbles, which allows natural vegetation such as cottonwood trees to grow. The community around this area is one of the strongest supporters of river revitalization, and you can see why – running through their backyards, they have the closest thing to a river in Los Angeles.
We had lunch at this stop, sitting on the banks, enjoying the view of birds such as ducks, stilts, and even a fish-eating hawk called an Osprey. Watching locals taking a stroll on the river walk, and others enjoying the bike path on the opposite bank, you could see that this is the vision activists such as Friends of the Los Angeles River (FOLAR) have for the future of the river.
The development of this park was spearheaded by another environmental non-profit called North East Trees (NET). This group acquires parcels of open space throughout the city, and rehabilitates them into natural public spaces by planting trees, among other techniques. NET reached out to the local community for help in building the park, ensuring community engagement in the project.
As NET outreach coordinator Nidia Garcia told me, “it’s not about ‘build it and they will come.’ We have to first engage the community so that we can build something they want, and that they will care for after we have moved on to the next project.” In the case of this particular project, there were community concerns about gangs using the park to hang out, exacerbating crime in the area. Nidia noted that this is an issue commonly raised when parks are in the planning stages. NET responded by hiring local youths (including former gang members from Homeboy Industries) to help build the park, and cleverly arranged for yoga courses to be held by the river.
This has all been very successful: not only has crime gone down, but graffiti is noticeably absent from much of the park. Nidia credits this to the community’s pride in the park as a resource.