Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dreaming of an Arroyo Seco Greenway

I rode my bicycle along the Ventura River Trail/Ojai Valley Trail over Memorial Day Weekend, taking in the sites and thinking about how wonderful it would be to take such a ride right here in the great urban metropolis that includes Los Angeles and Pasadena.

For many years, several of us have shared the dream of a 'trail,' 'multi-use path' or whatever label you want to call it that would connect the wonderful trails along the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena and South Pasadena southward to include the historic Arroyo communities of NorthEast Los Angeles.

This is not a new idea. Pasadena Mayor Horace Dobbins worked and actually built the first phase of a Pasadena-Los Angeles Cycleway in the late 1800s, which is today the site of the part of the Arroyo Seco Scenic Parkway (Pasadena Freeway). In 1990, Pasadena Mayor Jess Hughston formed a task force to promote bicycle riding. One recommendation of this group, led by bicycle activist Dennis Crowley, was to revive the California Cycleway plan of Dobbins.

More recently, the County of Los Angeles built an in-channel bicycle path that travels almost 2 miles from the York Blvd Bridge to the Montecito Heights Recreation Center near Avenue 43. Plans to continue this in-channel bicycle path were abandoned after safety and environmental concerns were expressed, although dialogue continues to create at least a partial bikeway
linkage with funds already committed for the project.

While riding along the Ventura River, I marveled at the great trail design ~ a paved asphalt bikeway/walkway separated from equestrian riders by a split rail fence. The signage was clear and helpful and the trail was well designed, with turn-offs into several local parks, including the famous Libbey Bowl.

It got me wondering about the 21st Century efforts of the Arroyo Seco Foundation and other community groups to create an Arroyo Seco Greenway that would integrate a pedestrian pathway, bicycle cycleway, and, dare I wish for it, an equestrian trail along publically owned land, right of ways, and conservation easements next to the Arroyo Seco. This Greenway would not only provide a great urban nature transportation corridor but would provide non-automobile access to some of the Arroyo's great treasures: The Audubon Center at Debs Park, Sycamore Grove Park (Los Angeles' oldest park), and the Lummis House, center of Arroyo Culture at the turn of the 20th Century.

One of the highlights of my Ventura River bicycle ride was stopping by the fabulous bicyclists waystation at Foster Park, complete with bicycle racks, CLEAN modern restrooms, and picnic area. I soon found out why these great facilities were there: within a short walk was the beautiful Ventura River itself, with flowing waters and picknickers catching crawfish and minnows and actually swimming in the river!

What fun would that be to fish, picnic and swim along the Arroyo Seco, the way it was for thousands of Angelenos before the River's channelization in the 1930s!

I learned a lot from my Ojai Valley-Ventura River bike trail ride, most of all that people will believe in the Arroyo Seco Greenway when they can SEE it. I think it's time for a design competition to find the best integrated Greenway plan that captures all the elements of urban nature: non-automobile transportation trails, ecosystem restoration, fishing pools (like Troutdale in Agoura, my favorite!!!!) and shallow side pools for wading in the water.

What do you think? Is it time for the best and the brightest environmental planners and landscape architects to show us what they've got?

Why not join us for the Tour de Arroyo on May 30th, in memory of Dennis Crowley, and ride along Southern California's most romantic river. (details: You might even get inspired to create the Greenway Plan yourself!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Heroes of the Hahamongna - One in a Series

No river restoration effort is successful without the ongoing stewardship of individuals, school groups, youth organizations, retirees and community groups who work hard to keep urban and suburban environments natural.

These people and organizations are often unsung heroes who, little by little, contribute to the tremendous work necessary, especially in an urban watershed, to both restore AND maintain its beauty for future generations.

One such hero is Roger Klemm, who has been nurturing oak seedlings that will soon be planted in the Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena. Roger visits and enjoys the Hahamongna often, since he works at nearby NASA/JPL and his son participates in the Tom Sawyer Camp which uses part of the Park for its youth activities.

One day, while walking throught the Equestrian Staging Area of the Hahamongna, Roger noticed two Englemann Oak trees and was inspired to help keep Hahamongna full of native trees for future generations by gathering acorns and nurturing seedlings.

Now, his seedlings of Englemann Oak and California Coast Live Oak are being readied for planting in the Hahamongna this summer, where young day campers, including his son, will nurture their new growth during those first few critical months of ‘taking’ to their new home.

Learn more about the Englemann Oak here:

Roger’s personal passion means that new tree life will continue on in the Hahamongna. Just as importantly, he is passing on the legacy of environmental stewardship to the next generation of Californians.

Thanks, Roger, for your small part in restoring our riparian habitat

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's a Hahamongna?

Do you know where this photo was taken? Somewhere in Europe? New England? A National Forest?

The answer is none of the above. This bucolic nature park is less than 30 minutes from downtown Los Angeles and is home to one of the largest old age oak groves still intact in Southern California.

This parkland also graces the banks of the Arroyo Seco River. Where is it?

It's the Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena, California.

Thanks to the hard work of lots of civic leaders, environmentalists, and community activists, the City of Pasadena created an Arroyo Seco Master Plan (, which includes the four components of the Hahamonga Watershed Park Master Plan, the Central Arroyo Master Plan, the Lower Arroyo Master Plan, and the Design Guidelines for the Arroyo Seco.
In 2005, the City of Pasadena acquired a 30-acre adjacent parcel, known as the Hahamongna Annex, whose future uses are limited to open space and recreational use. Currently, the City is working on a plan to amend the Hahamongna Master Plan to integrate the Annex:
Whether you personally enjoy the Hahamongna or just want to learn more about how an environmental master plan is created and modified through public comment and advocacy, the Hahamongna annex is a fascinating study of the push-pull dynamics at work when a municipality is seeking to 'rehabilitate' a parcel within a long-used natural riparian parkland.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 30th ~ Bike the Arroyo by day AND night

What an exciting day is planned for the Arroyo Seco! On May 30th, you can ride in the Tour de Arroyo in the morning ~ ~ then attend the 7pm presentation on the unnamed streams of Northeast Los Angeles, followed by a night bike tour.

I can't say it any better than the press release for this great urban water tour event:

an intimate history of the suburban landscape from the point of view of Water in Northeast Los Angeles

The wide concrete troughs carved through our city-- the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco-- have long been the focus of grassroots watershed restoration efforts. Yet few of the numerous small waterflows that fed those rivers were ever mapped or even named. Such myriad small streams were an unavoidable fact of life in the era before we made the landscape predictable by regrading and draining it.

Learn how oldtimers in Northeast Los Angeles experienced the landscape in the pre-storm-drain era. After an informal Powerpoint presentation, maps will be distributed. Head out for a self-guided night bike tour (under 8 mi). Front and rear lights recommended.

May 30th, Time 7-8pm at:Sea and Space Explorations, 4755 York Blvd, LA, CA 90042 (near Occidental College)

DIRECTIONS from Los Angeles: From the 5, take the 2 north. Take the Verdugo Road exit. Left onto Eagle Rock Boulevard. Right onto York Boulevard (major cross street is Armadale Blvd).

This event presented in conjunction with the exhibition:

Nicole Antebi & May JongThrough the Looking Glass: The Los Angeles Aqueduct
May 9 - May 30, 2009
Gallery is open Sundays 1-5 PM and by appointment

Monday, May 18, 2009

See the Arroyo Seco from the Seat of your Bike.

What's a great way to enjoy an urban river?

Many of us working in major cities to restore urban rivers know that connectivity with greenways and trails that link wildlife and people corridors are a key element of the restoration process.

These greenways provide a terrific opportunity to walk, bike, or (in certain areas) ride your horse along our historic streams and rivers, many of which are trying to free themselves from channelization.

In Los Angeles, bicycling is the fastest and easiest way to enjoy both the Los Angeles River and its Arroyo Seco River tributary through a combination of street and trail biking.

Even if you've never 'biked' along an urban river before, you'll want to join us at the inaugural 'Tour de Arroyo,' a 9.4 mile bicycle cruise that combines street biking with trail riding, including riding the in-channel Bicycle Path. This downstream ride is fun for both the average and experienced rider and is recommended for bicyclists ages 12 years and older, due to some of the urban streets the tour will take.

Scheduled for Saturday, May 30th, with sign-in at Pasadena's Memorial Park at 8:30am, the tour concludes at the Cornfields State Historic Park in Downtown Los Angeles at 10:30am with a rally and memorial in honor of bicycling activist Dennis Crowley.

After the rally, riders can either return to Pasadena by bike (average 3% uphill grade) or hop the Gold Line rail with their bike at the Chinatown Station and ride the train back to Pasadena.

The event, sponsored by the Arroyo Seco Foundation, is co-sponsored by the City of Los Angeles, Council District I; the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council; and the City of Pasadena.

Visit for details and to sign up.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Next American Dream

When NPR's Marketplace reporter Sam Eaton approached me about being a part of their Next American Dream radio series, I was both intrigued and terrified about sharing my personal story to a national audience. I agreed to be profiled in the hopes that it will encourage you to follow your heart and stay true to your dream, even during this time of great economic adversity. Hear the story and watch the photo essay here: and

This blog, though, is not about my professional transformation. Rather, it is about my personal passion for transforming our communities through restoring the natural rivers and streams that have graced our landscape for thousands of years. Here we will share anecdotes, case studies of successful restorations, tips for safely (and legally) cleaning up riverways, and collaboration opportunities for all of you who share my dream that we can heal America by restoring our communities, one river at a time.

Please join the conversation! You can also follow me on Twitter @ArroyoLover.

Meredith McKenzie
The Arroyo Lover