Thursday, July 14, 2011

Arroyo Lover on the River Road

Is this the La Loma Bridge in Pasadena? Of course not. The natural stream course under the bridge looks nothing like today's concrete channelized Arroyo Seco. But it could look like this in the future if we remain vigilant in restoring our historic Pasadena stream.

I haven't posted here recently because for the past few weeks, the Arroyo Lover has been on the road to her native Ohio and what a treasure trove of watershed restoration and revitalization activity it's been!

The photo above is actually of Mill Creek, a major tributary of the Mahoning (meaning Salt Licks) River, deemed by the USACE as one of America's five most polluted rivers due to a century of steel mill and manufacturing toxin dumping into its waterways.

Fortunately, Mill Creek is relatively pristine, thanks to the leadership of Volney Rogers, who created Mill Creek Park in 1891, the first park district in Ohio. Today, Mill Creek Metroparks manage 4800 acres of riverine parkland (more than double the Arroyo Seco parkland in Pasadena!) full of trails, athletic fields, golf courses, and historical landmarks, like the Lanterman Mill, seen here, one of the first grist mills on the creek which was completely restored in the 1980s. This historic restoration allows visitors to visit one of the finest riverside interpretative sites I've ever seen: you can walk four levels within the mill, including down to the water wheel itself. In addition, the viewing platform next to the falls is so close you can feel the spray! And what a great old wooden dam made of railroad ties, still functional after 100 years. Los Angeles County engineers could take a clue about how to use natural materials on area waterways from this project.

And what fun is a river if you can't play on it? So, one Sunday afternoon, I joined about 15 members of the Trumbull Council Trails Canoe Club (ranging in age from 3 years old to 75!) on a 5 mile 'float' down the Upper Mahoning River (the healthier part). Aside from an occasional railroad trestle or highway bridge overhead, we did not see much evidence of civilization but we did see a lot of nature's beauty: birds, flowers, and trees in full foliage. It was interesting to see how many tree branches were down in the river, creating a sort of 'mogul' run, and how little human trash was in the waterway. The Canoe Club members are the nicest people, too! They virtually let me crash their party, shared a canoe, and gave me a paddle and PFD (personal flotation device) to use. We had lots of water wars, too, with the youngsters in particular trying to spray us old folks with water from their Max Liquidators. But I got revenge when one of the boys accidentally dropped his water gun in the river, which I retrieved, then took aim and fired away!

Next it was off to the Cuyahoga ( meaning crooked) River, once famous for having caught on fire. But what a difference 40 years of restoration makes!

From listening to the Cleveland Orchestra perform at Blossom Music Center within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to exploring the Upper Cuyahoga river towns of Aurora and Hudson, it was a delight to see the river so healthy.

Finally, it was time for a stop in my old college town, Kent, Ohio, where the city undertook a $5 million dam removal/river restoration project completed about 5 years ago. And look at what a terrific achievement it is - a free flowing river once again supported by a beautiful waterfall, riverwalk, and direct access to the river. Home to the Davey Tree Company, Kent is the original 'Tree City,' making the woodsy river stroll cool and breezy. The day of my visit, a few young fishermen were fly fishing along its shore.

This area of the river is also popular with kayakers and Kent State University students run a canoe livery on weekends based out of Tannery Park. Most exciting of all is Kent's planned natural whitewater park along this section of the river. Kent City Manager Dave Ruller graciously shared with me the conceptual design plan for the whitewater park. Yes, the river only reaches a maximum of 1100 cfs - not Class 3 or Class 4 rapids, but definitely a fast enough flow for some serious water fun.  It's an exciting project that will create a terrific water trail through the middle of this college town. Wouldn't it be great to have something like that on the Los Angeles River, too?

This trip certainly offered a different perspective to my usual work in the Greater Los Angeles area, where water shortage and channelized waterways are the norm. Strategically located at the heart of the top of two major watersheds, the Cuyahoga (which flows north) and the Mahoning (which flows southeast), Northeast Ohio has plenty of water and is one of the few non-water stressed regions in our country. The environmental ethic is very strong here as well, because intuitively the people who live in this region know that trash interferes with the food chain. (Agriculture is still the number one 'industry' in Ohio). Even the former Mayor of Struthers, now Youngstown State University's Urban Studies Professor and Mahoning River Restoration collaborator, lamented his inability while on city council to get the area designated a watershed district!

This eastern navigable rivers visit was definitely a Huck Finn type of adventure with my Ohio river brothers and sisters. What an inspiration for those days when achieving true integrated urban river restoration seems an impossible dream!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be civil, brief, and relevant. Thank you!