There's a scene in the movie Drive where Ryan Gosling's character takes Carey Mulligan's character for a leisurely lift down a half-pike of concrete. Dried up and ugly, it's the bed of the L.A. River, where–in theory–copious amounts of flowing water should be.
It's an accurate reflection of how most Angelenos view our city's infamous waterway: As an eyesore that's best used as a backdrop for indie films and the occasional headshot. But in reality, activists and nature-lovers have reclaimed the river over the past few years, in an attempt to demonstrate its potential.
One of their best plans of attack?
The trend of dropping one-person boats into the L.A. River began in July of 2008, when activist George Wolfe traversed the river's entire 52-mile stretch. His trip was well-publicized, and his wife, filmmaker Thea Mercouffer, made a documentary out of the effort.
“We made it so that the river demanded attention,” he said.
From there, Wolfe and a handful of other activists began leading public tours down the river. Groups like L.A. River Expeditions, L.A. Conservation Corps and L.A. River Kayak Safari hope that by allowing Angelenos to see the beauty surrounding the river–from wildlife to walking trails to the sun hitting the water on a Saturday morning–more people will support revitalization projects that are happening around it.
As of this year, kayaks are allowed down a 2.5-mile stretch of the river, from an entry point at Rattlesnake Park in Elysian Valley to an exit point at Egret Park. City planning groups have determined that other parts of the river are to remain untouched by kayaks, but activists hope that will change.
“Next year, we think and hope that it will become about a six-mile stretch, all the way up to perhaps to Atwater Park,” says Wolfe.