Pending approval by the Army Corps of Engineers, environmental and activist groups will be allowed to lead rafting trips along a 3-mile stretch on the Los Angeles river.
Lined with tons of concrete, the river was channelized by the Army Corps of Engineers after a series of floods that caused hundreds of deaths and over $1 billion worth of damage. Today, the river has a largely negative image. Bounded by fences and marred with graffiti, trash, and questionable water quality, some parts of the river look like a giant sewer. At one point, the Army Corps of Engineers even deemed sections of the Los Angeles river “not worthy of protecting.”
Enter George Wolfe, one of the many activists determined to revitalize the LA river. In 2008, he led a group of fellow kayakers down the entire 51-mile river. After successfully traveling the length of the river, the Environmental Protection Agency overturned the Army Corp’s opinion that the LA river was not qualified to be protected by the Clean Water Act.
Politicians and the public also became increasingly interested in the river after Wolfe’s expedition. Councilman Ed Reyes is proposing to remove laws banning non-motorized boating on the LA river.
However, whether or not the proposal passes, Wolfe has already taken steps to make this experience available to the general public, which may be available as early as July 8th. He has already requested permission from the Army Corps and once approved, Wolfe’s LA River Expeditions will be licensed and permitted to operate a rafting program on a 3-mile section of the river. Tickets for the program are tentatively priced at $50. However, for youth groups in San Fernando Valley, the admission would be free on Fridays.
The program is also supported by the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority who will provide park rangers trained in search and water rescue techniques and ensure the safety of program participants. The rangers will be equipped with ropes and a portable defibrillator.
Wolfe hopes the program will be successful enough to expand to other scenic parts of the river. For example, Wolfe has his eye on Glendale Narrows, a scenic 8-mile stretch of river north of downtown LA.
Besides Wolfe, Heather Wylie is another important figure in the restoration of the LA river. Originally a biologist working for the Army Corps of Engineers, she was part of the kayaking expedition Wolfe led in 2008. Her participation in the expedition, her love for nature, and her differing views with her employer ultimately cost Wylie her job and $60,000 yearly salary.
Joining as a civilian worker for the Army Corps in 2004, Wylie was responsible for assessing the impact development projects would have on protected waterways. In one incident, when she requested developers to change their plans, the Army Corps removed her from the project.
Wylie continued on working for the Army Corps even though she believed sticking to her beliefs would probably cost her her job. Says Wylie, “They would have eventually pushed me out of the corps but I wanted to stay until I did something really good.”
That “something really good” came when she discovered the word “navigability” and uncovered the Army Corps’s plans to remove the Clean Water Act’s protection of the LA river. Upon this discovery, she revealed this information to environmental firms. She also came across a video of Wolfe kayaking through the LA river, which led her to find Wolfe and, ultimately, join the 2008 expedition. Fellow kayakers gave Wylie the nickname “the Coyote.”
If this program proves to be successful, the LA river can be something the city can be proud of, instead of a trash filled, concrete channel. And although it would be a while before most people would even think of swimming in it, initiating this program is a good start and presents many future opportunities for the city.
Instead of being in a car and sitting in traffic, people might soon be able to commute via the Los Angeles River.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/troubleshots/219743136/