Angelenos Shocked to Find Their River Looking Like a River

on the la river photo
Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District / cc

In many places throughout the world, rivers are the lifeblood of civilization, havens of tranquility which keep rhythm with a higher order of time -- but in Los Angeles, it's more likely to conjure a Nick Cage flick than musings on eternity. For the last 70 years or so, the once free and winding LA river has been largely LA-ified, riddled with pollution and concrete slabs, deemed too dangerous for public enjoyment. But now, thanks to the efforts of local conservationists, the river's making a comeback as more and more folks are discovering that, even in the concrete jungle, there's still a bit of real nature to be found.After decades of weepily weaving through the middle of the second largest city in America, unkempt and ignored, the Los Angeles river is once again being celebrated and revitalized as a setting for water recreation. Earlier this month, for the first time in years, boating permits were issued along a scenic, two-mile stretch of the river, drawing dozens of kayaking Angelinos to their oft-neglected waterway.

A writer for Echo Park Patch, Kim Axelrod Ohanneson, covered the Aug. 8 launching festivities and describes her experience traversing the recently renewed river, painting a shockingly pleasant scene of Los Angeles' hidden natural side:

... I was paddling along the swiftly flowing river lined by cottonwood and buttonwillow trees. Clumps of sunflowers burst like fireworks along the banks while cascades of yellow monkey flower reached towards the water below. There were rocks. There were small rapids. There were people fishing. There were walls of green vegetation on either side and a blue sky overhead.

I felt like Dorothy of Oz in reverse. It didn't seem like we were in California anymore, but based on the unspoiled setting, we could have been in Kansas.

The LA river's reopening is part of a pilot program administered by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, called "Paddle the Los Angeles River." According to officials, the public will have recreational access to their namesake river, by permit, each weekend until the end of September. If the pilot is successful, the program may be extended further. But, for as encouraging as it is for the city's humble water to be enjoyed yet again, there are no plans to restore its concreted-lined portions to their original glory -- justified as flood protection.

"Providing safe and healthy recreation experiences to meet the needs of current and future generations is part of the Corps' Recreation Strategic Plan," said Col. Mark Toy, Los Angeles District Commander. "But I must be clear, nothing we do can jeopardize human safety or reduce the flood carrying capacity of this river."

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