A river runs through it

San Gabriel Valley Newspapers - January 06, 2002

By Roy LaBomme and Emanual Parker
Staff Writers

ONE day, you'll be able to take the kids to the San Gabriel River near Azusa for the day. See the salmon swimming up stream. Swim. Have a picnic and go for a walk along the water.

Another day, you'll be able to explore the northern Arroyo Seco in Pasadena between Devil's Gate Dam and the Brookside Golf Course, and the southern Arroyo between the Holly and Colorado street bridges. The concrete stream you see today will be natural, and trails will lead hikers and walkers through the area.

These dreams are a long way off, but city officials in Pasadena and Azusa as well as others involved in various conservancy projects, are taking the first steps toward restoring the our natural area rivers.

The restoration will begin with a pair of $1 million state grants, one awarded to the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy (RMC), and the other to the city of Pasadena.

The conservancy's grant will help buy 34 acres of land along the river's banks in Azusa near the defunct Canyon Inn. The target area is about three miles from the center of town along Highway 39, where it meets Old San Gabriel Canyon Road, just this side of the San Gabriel River. Now the area is the beginning point of a bike path that continues down the river through Whittier Narrows Recreation area and to Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach.

Parcels on both sides of the Old San Gabriel Canyon Road will be developed and called the Azusa River Wilderness Park.

"It's some beautiful land up the canyon," said Mary Angle, RMC executive director. "It's just a really great place for people to stop off and enjoy being out of doors."

Nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and next to the San Gabriel River, Azusa's San Gabriel Canyon is the gateway to the Angeles National Forest. An estimated eight million people visit the canyon every year.

Below the forest, the river flows over natural terrain, but the land around it is used for mining, housing and business. The city hopes to change that by creating parks and recreation facilities along the river's shores.

The long-term plans for the Azusa River Project include hiking and bike trails, pocket parks in available open space, improved public access and restoration of the natural fauna and habitat.

The Azusa City Council has made it clear that restoration and what they call "re-greening" of the river is a priority," said Robert Person, Azusa assistant city manager, who has spearheaded the project.

"The river project is four different projects, including the wilderness-park land acquisition," he said. "We're working to get a lot of projects done in a short period of time."

The $1 million-project in Pasadena will include the northern Arroyo Seco between Devil's Gate Dam and the Brookside Golf Course, as well as the southern Arroyo between the Holly and Colorado street bridges.

"South of Devil's Gate Dam are these big chunks of concrete that don't belong there. We plan to take those out," said Tim Brick, with the Arroyo Seco Foundation, a group whose goal is to restore as much of the waterway as possible to a natural state.

"There's exotic vegetation that we will remove and replace with natural stream vegetation," Brick said. "And we will stabilize the stream banks. We also plan to build up the trails people use to hike in those areas."

The project that will create the Azusa River Wilderness Park and help with the Arroyo project, were two of eight state grants totaling almost $10 million for projects along the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers.

The money comes from Gov. Gray Davis' Urban Parks Strategy, which uses state funds to acquire and restore parks in heavily urban areas.

"Clean water is critical to maintaining a healthy quality of life for Californians," Davis said.

In a break with previous water bonds, funds from the "Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Act of 2000" were also earmarked for recreational projects and acquisitions in urban areas.

-- Emanuel Parker can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4475, or by e-mail at emanuel.parker@sgvn.com. Roy LaBomme can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2730 or by e-mail at tribune@email.com.