What is the Arroyo Brigade?

Why, when, what are the queries tossed our way during the past few years? Here is the tale of the above title which sounds as if it might be an adjunct of the Fire Department, which it is not!

"Brigade" sprung from Roy Begley's head, reminiscent of his stint with the British Air Force in WW II. Associated with things military, the dictionary offers another definition; "a group organized for a purpose". That fits us. Volunteers we are, who CARE about the disgraceful amounts of trash on many of our streets, particularly along South Arroyo Blvd.

Within the Arroyo, neglect has been practiced for some six decades by the governance as evidenced by severe overgrowth, erosion and uncontrolled dumping.

With rakes, pruning shears and shovels too, we attracted much attention from those on foot or in their car as they passed the "Brigade" at work in the Arroyo. "Why are you doing this? Are you paid by the City? What is the name of your organization? Why are you nuts doing this filthy work? Why don't you let the City take care of this public property?" On and on and on!

Thusly did the "Arroyo Brigade" come into being in 1999 while at the site immediately north of the San Rafael bridge. Literally tons of trash was left by a colony of the homeless – from baby carriages to toothpaste tubes, all covered by overgrowth from dead branches and fallen leaves from drooping trees. Now when you drive, walk or jog by, it has the feel of a glen.

We have placed a bench at the top of the pathway, an invitation to sit and soak up a new vista. Rather than enumerate the many details of the many "unearthings" during the past three years, it is the wide appreciation of passers-by who give a "thumbs up" from a car, a vocal "Thanks for what you are doing". From the mouth of a jogger, that provides a great deal of satisfaction for us.

We were impressed by words from non-residents, some from as far away as La Crescenta. Following are a few of their comments… "I love coming here to walk because I leave feeling cleansed". "It is the QUIET of the Arroyo that draws me here". "The pressures in my life vanish while I run through this sliver of nature". "The sparseness of humanity here refreshes me". On and on!! The ringing message is very clear; this fragile piece of earth means so much to so many.

Our main concern is why has there been so much neglect of our greatest asset? For many decades, City Councils and City Management has given "ZILCH" attention to this treasure amongst us, yet this is the alleged "World Class City". The need is simple; stewardship. Ongoing maintenance is the essential ingredient for preservation and that need not be costly. An individual who knows the native plants and pruning techniques needs to be on staff to supervise and be aware of invasive growths. In other words, we need a kind of ambassador without a pin stripe suit and briefcase. The plea is for caring about what we have left.

Fortunately recent rains have produced abundant greenery, so it appears to the casual observer that all is well in the Arroyo. We wish that were so. NOW, right now is the moment to address the problems of fixing, prior to the adoption of the Master Environmental Report, hurriedly scheduled to come before the City Council. One wonders about the reason for a race to a swift decision when the issue of the entire Arroyo has been discussed and re-hashed for about seventeen years.

Returning to the tale, it was in 1994 that Roy Begley and Ray Dashner got together on Sunday mornings to remove graffiti and trash from the Colorado Street Bridge. Their relentless efforts attracted the attention of motorists and walkers who saluted with a "thumbs-up" or a vocal "thanks". When the project was yielding diminishing trash due to the lessening of trashing the pristine bridge, their gaze turned southward.

At the foot of Bradford Street near Ray's homesite, a hint of a pathway caught their eye. Rakes and shovels soon revealed a wonderful boulder-lined walkway down into the Arroyo. There was newspaper recognition and a small ribbon cutting ceremony honoring the efforts of these persistent gentlemen. I entered the picture in 1999, inquiring if they could use another set of hands. They welcomed me enthusiastically, although I imagined that they thought I wouldn't last – and further, why does a woman want to indulge in this dusty, filthy, exhausting work?" Well. I too care! I now work with Ray since with the passing of Roy, we are now just two stalwarts.

In February 2002, our illustrious Roy Begley expired as he entered the lobby of his apartment building. Roy's departure has left a large void. He was a very colorful man, well educated, studiously informed on a number of issues. He was an original thinker, not the buffoon as some had labeled him. At heart he was a performer and a doer and his remarks at Council meetings added zest and controversy to some otherwise dull proceedings. We worked well together in our Arroyo adventures.

Recently, we have been provided with the help of Larry Shaffer, a knowledgeable naturalist, a Pasadenan familiar with the flora of our valley as well as the history of the Gabrieleno Indians. Larry has taught various school children by taking them on tours of the Arroyo, in itself an out-of-doors classroom. This gentleman knows pruning techniques, drought-tolerant plants and the invasive growths that plague the Arroyo. In a word, we now have an advisor and this has come about due to our liaison with the City, Rosa LaVeaga, Superviser of Arroyo Parks.

We also welcome Gary Cowles, a neighborhood resident who is doing extensive research, uncovering fascinating history of Pasadena's early years where we see conflicting tales entwining the Arroyo Seco, much like the meandering South Arroyo Boulevard does.

Without a head honcho, no long term pre-planning and no lengthy meetings, the Arroyo Brigade pulls up their boots and moves onward to the places in need of caring. Currently we are at work on another exciting discovery several yards north of La Casita. In time, another virtually unknown path and stairway will be available to the public in our beloved Arroyo.

So this is the scoop on the "ARROYO BRIGADE". For complete details and pictures of progress being made, log on to www.arroyoseco.org and follow the links. We continue to move forward with our limited energy to bring to view the magnificent assets once provided in days of long ago, still extant, but not yet unearthed. Vigilance is required, so we urge those who do not walk regularly along the Boulevard to do so. Look down into our Arroyo. Better still, travel down one of the many boulder-lined pathways to see for yourself what we have here. See for yourself what is likely to become changed if the Council has its way.

Barbara Dahn

 March 21, 2003


What Is the Arroyo Brigade? New Stairway | Forgotten Trail | Scoville Dam | Roy Begley - RIP | San Rafael Bridge Staircase | Pulling Up Stakes | Newest Volunteers | Honorary Member | Tour Busch Gardens