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The South

Photo by Leor Levine

Previous stop on river tour Downtown.

IN SOUTH L.A., WHERE THE CONCRETE RIVER CHANNEL EXPANDS TO FREEWAY width, the communities are among the city's poorest, least white, most heavily industrialized, absurdly park-deprived and basically environmentally besieged. The L.A. River Greenway will bring greenery, public space and connectedness to densely populated neighborhoods cut off by industry and manufacturing. It has passionate local advocates -- every single one of the eight cities from Maywood to the Pacific Ocean has launched restoration projects.

The south's very handicaps push it to be creative: Many of the projects model how to create green space from old rail routes, once-industrial lands, utility rights of way. The cities, with few truly big parks, are unusually connection-minded -- a number are using the greenway to anchor entire new networks of greenbelts and bikeways that connect one small park to another.

If generally poor, South L.A. still draws on key assets: newly repaved county bike paths along most of the river; the hugely energetic Trust for Public Land, which has made this underserved area one of its top priorities nationally; and a large pool of funds from the brand-new Rivers and Mountains Conservancy.

Vernon, "founded . . . to serve manufacturing," has 3.5 just heavenly miles of all-industrial riverfront. Alone in the south, the city (with only 155 full-time residents) has no plans to green the river.

The new 7.3-acre Maywood Riverfront Park more than doubles the existing park space -- 5.8 acres, two blocks' worth, for 30,000 people -- in a city that's park-deprived even by South L.A. standards. An industrial spot now being cleaned up, it's a grassy acre so far, with sports fields and a possible community center to come. (ETA rest, start 2002)

The Bell River Gateway Project (Bell has just 11 acres in parks) has created two formal planted entryways to the L.A. River Bikeway, and will add a third. (ETA 2002)

The projects in Bell Gardens, Cudahy and South Gate will create greenbelts and bikeways that connect these cities and major parks on the Rio Hondo and L.A. River.

Cudahy (13 park acres for 27,000 people) plans to expand downtown Cudahy Park with ball fields, basketball courts and a river walkway. If it wins the funds it seeks to extend the greenway north to Bell, tiny Cudahy could be the first riverside city to green its entire stretch. (ETA 2002)

Bell Gardens technically has no L.A. River frontage, and the new Julia Russ Asmus Neighborhood Park -- with picnic tables, a playground and a basketball court -- doesn't connect to the river yet. But the city plans a spur from the park to a new bikeway, now an unused rail route, that'll bridge the 710 to connect the L.A. River Greenway/Bikeway to John Anson Ford Park on the Rio Hondo. (ETA 2003)

In one big visionary stroke, South Gate plans to connect and re-green the city across its entire width, by converting a barren DWP right of way into the six-mile Southern Avenue Greenbelt and Bikeway, which will run from a new 12-acre park past South Gate Park and to the river. All the way, it'll have playgrounds, picnic areas, ball courts. (ETA start 2001) Right now, there's a new formal entrance to the river, and just-finished Triangle Park, a way station for bikers, offers shade and a fountain.

The county has been sprucing up the newly re-paved LARIO Trail -- a bikeway from the Rio Hondo to the harbor -- with native plants, decorative rocks and rest stops, and location maps to come. A sort of upside to the long-fought project that raised the levee walls here (see Watershed). (ETA finish 2001)

South Gate also plans a 7-acre habitat restoration, with native plants, a pond or wetland, and a loop dirt path from the river. (ETA 2002)

Of all the cities with riverfront, Lynwood has by far the smallest slice -- and it wants to use it to create the city's first nature park, with a pond and a walk/bike trail. It's got the construction funds in hand, and is pursuing negotiations to acquire the land from Caltrans. (ETA, if, 2002)

Hollydale Regional Park is the northernmost of three long, narrow, grassy 1970s parks right by the river -- with new access ramps to the bikeway. South Gate wants to add formal river entrances here. It's got playgrounds, sports fields and basketball courts now, and it'll get a new community center and gym.

Ralph C. Dills Park -- formerly "Banana Park" -- has picnic tables, a playground, a basketball hoop, lots of grass. Paramount (with a scant 46 park acres) is converting a manufacturing site into an entrance and rest area for the park and the bikeway, and wants to build an entrance at the north end, too.

One hundred and two miles of concrete wall: A lot of people talk about murals on the river, but Paramount, one of L.A.'s smallest and least well-off cities, has commissioned the first. Artist Adel Rakhshani's painted whales at Alondra Boulevard, sharks at Somerset Boulevard and a third mural to come at Rosecrans Avenue are arresting sights on a no-green stretch. (ETA 2001)

The last three miles of the river have an earth-and-cobblestone bed; as in the Glendale Narrows, the water table runs too close to the surface for a concrete cap. This soft-bottom stretch, a part-saltwater estuary, is full of greenery, and upriver, algae coats the superwide concrete channel all the way to the 105. Altogether, the stretch of green regularly hosts the largest concentration of shorebirds in L.A. County. The birds are easy to spot -- as many as 8,000 to 9,000 a day during fall migration -- and the black-necked stilts make a racket that rivals the truck traffic on the 710. You can see fish jump in the estuary. All of it is especially compelling at sunset.

Long Beach, a city notably aggressive about the greenway, is identifying possible sites to restore along its entire 8-mile stretch. Already, the current projects and proposals create a string of parks and wetlands that connects the city's especially park-poor northern reaches to downtown and the harbor.

DeForest Park, the southernmost of the big, grassy '70s parks, has tennis and racquetball courts, ball fields, picnic areas, a community center -- and a wildly unexpected forested nature trail. A proposal to restore wetlands (see Watershed) would extend the belt of green here to Del Amo Boulevard.

If the Wrigley Heights park happens -- and it looks good -- it will be a major new park in South L.A. With the three parks downtown, it'll be New Big Park No. 4 on the river. The Trust for Public Land is mediating purchases of up to 40 acres, a former oil site included, straddling the 405 -- and the $5.85 million in the new state budget would pay for most of the acquisition and development. It's the sort of riverside site, just like Taylor Yard and the Cornfield, that once would have been sold for industrial development, but that is now getting commandeered for a public greenway and watershed management. (ETA start 2003)

The Wrigley Association -- neighborhood residents -- pioneered the greening of the river in South L.A. in 1996 with the Wrigley Landscape Project. A "see, it's possible" plot of native plants with a few benches, it's on a city right of way and former illegal dump site. The association built an extension last year, and plans to continue the project, piece by piece, north toward the 405.

The new 13-acre Cesar E. Chavez Park -- in a park-scarce area, and the first park in Long Beach since the mid-1970s -- sits right by the planned spur from the river bikeway to downtown. It's got picnic tables, playgrounds and basketball courts, with a community center, aquatics playground and outdoor amphitheater to come next year.

The county is testing a trash boom at the river's mouth, to stop all trash from heading into the ocean. The new technology collected 95,000 pounds of trash in an October storm . . . but got washed away in January . . . but got improved and re-installed in April. We await the rains.

In 1998, Long Beach brought us the Golden Shore Marine Biological Reserve -- a restored 6-acre tidal marsh, and a water-bird hangout -- as mitigation for dredging in Queensway Bay. You turn off here for the coastal bike path.

WALK AND BIKE THE RIVER The newly repaved bike paths — 17 miles of bikeway! — make this stretch of the L.A. River Bikeway continuously walkable from Maywood to the Pacific Ocean. These paths have undercrossings.

The Upper South: Atlantic Boulevard south to Imperial Highway, west bank. Cross to LARIO Trail at Imperial Highway.

The Lower South: LARIO Trail, on the Rio Hondo and L.A. River from Whittier Narrows south to the harbor, east bank. (Del Amo Boulevard to 34th Street, Rosecrans Avenue to Firestone Boulevard unfinished. ETA 2001)

To downtown Long Beach: The city plans a bike route that connects the bikeway to the Civic Center and transit station, via a tunnel under the Sixth Street offramp and a bike lane on Chestnut Street. (ETA 2002)

The big picture: The L.A. River Bikeway into downtown L.A. is in the future. For now, the LARIO Trail connects at two points to the 38-mile San Gabriel River Bikeway, which connects the eastern county from Seal Beach to Azusa: at its south end, via the Shoreline Trail, and at its north end, through the Whittier Narrows Dam Recreational Area.