Visual artist Joe Linton has a rather formal job title — director of outreach for Friends of the Los Angeles River, the group pushing for a revitalization of the city’s nearly dormant waterway. But informally, Linton jokes that he is more like the minister of access, the guy who helps wayward Angelenos discover the river’s beauty, by taking them down the right path or sneaking them through the right fence.

Finding the nature embedded in the concrete-lined riverbed should be easier with Linton’s first book, Down by the Los Angeles River, which the graphic artist wrote and illustrated as a way to help people spot the three-story willow trees, see the errant heron or simply have a nice bike ride.

A resident of Koreatown, Linton supported river-revitalization initiatives even as he helped organize another advocacy group, the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, and held down jobs as a systems analyst for private hospitals. Now a regular employee of the river group, the 42-year-old Linton even took a few knocks inside the bureaucracy, where he served as an aide to Councilman Ed Reyes. “In some ways, it was a nightmare,” he recalled. “All the advocates thought I had sold out, and all the city people thought I was a dreamer. It was the worst of both worlds, actually.”

But no one’s ever doubted his passion for the river.

“We’ve paved and graded [the river] to the point that it’s hard to recognize the seasons and cycles of water and wildlife within the city,” he said. “But as much as we’ve trashed it, it still persists as a living river that supports nature. And so it’s a reminder in the city that we are in nature still.”

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