The Los Angeles River is now open for fun in the California sun. For the first time since the Great Depression in the 1930’s, the L.A. River is now open for boating by the general public. While the river had been the scene of much clandestine kayaking in the past, water enthusiasts can now go the length of the waterway without fear.
The river became off limits to the general public in the 1930s after devastating floods prompted officials to close access to the river and pave its banks with concrete to improve storm drainage.
In contrast to other rivers in major metropolitan areas, such as New York’s Hudson River or the Chicago River, the Los Angeles River is more a seasonal desert waterway. The river is flush with rapids during the rainy season but can become a mere trickle during the hot summer months.
Another reason the concrete-lined river was off-limits to the public was because the route was technically an Army Corps of Engineers flood control channel, officials say.
Following public outcry, officials at several levels of government created the Los Angeles River Pilot Recreation Zone along a lush segment that features tree-lined islands. Its a beautiful area, full of vistas of the San Gabriel Mountains and abundant wildlife such as herons, egrets, hawks and kingfishers.
In this specially cordoned area, the public can launch a kayak, canoe or other non-motorized boat without a permit or cost.
The pilot program allows for the open recreation between Memorial Day and Labor Day, a period when local storms are unlikely. Officials expect the program to be renewed in subsequent years.
The river has a longstanding bad reputation to overcome. A state legislator in the 1980s wanted to build a highway on it. It’s better known as the cinematic home for violence and car chases in films such as “Grease” and “Terminator 2.” In the 1990s, the conservation group American Rivers placed it six times on the list of the country’s 20 most threatened and endangered rivers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the river a “traditional navigable water,” in 2010, allowing for Clean Water Act protections, officials said. The river ultimately ends in the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach, California.
Kayakers from near and far were all eager to dip their crafts into the now rushing water. “People were downright giddy to get into a kayak on the Los Angeles River,” Councilman-elect Mitch O’Farrell says. “Even that 2.5-mile has rapids. It takes some concentration. It’s a real river. It does take certain risks.”