Leimert Park’s Hidden Passage to Health
This is the third part of Healthy 'Hoods, which examines the notion of environmental injustice in South Los Angeles. Read the other parts here, here and here. It is part of a broader initiative to report on the impact of environment on health.
The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook looks to be little more than oversized steps up a steep, rugged hill.
But people come from miles around for the challenge of climbing this veritable Aztec pyramid with a 360-degree view of the city. The new park on the outskirts of Culver City is so popular that parking is often a problem and there can be a line of people waiting to ascend.
Just a few miles away in South Los Angeles and a bit more accessible is the little known Stocker Corridor Trail, which winds its way almost two miles from Presidio Drive to La Brea Avenue.
Here you'll get a rustic trail with great views of the L.A. skyline and a steep climb for a moderate workout. You can also catch a glimpse of the local flora and fauna — hawks and falcons, poppy flowers, lizards. The problem? Not enough people know about it.
It has been shown that people who live near a park are healthier than those who don't. However, for residents to use a park for recreation and exercise, they need to know it's there.
Lori Webster, who has lived in Leimert Park for four years and used to make the trek to Runyon Canyon in Hollywood, had no idea until recently the Stocker Corridor Trail was a mile from her house.
"I had seen people walking around up there before and I had just figured it was people who lived on the hill walking down from their backyards," says Webster, a documentary filmmaker and USC student. "There aren’t any signs. I think people in the area would definitely be interested because I see people jogging in the neighborhood all the time. I’m sure they would enjoy that trail."
How does the park in Culver City become a destination rivaling the dunes in Manhattan Beach, the steps in Santa Monica and Runyon Canyon in Hollywood, while Stocker Corridor is overlooked by many of its own nearby residents?
In large part because the finishing touches that were planned on Stocker never took place. (Read the entire Stocker Corridor Plan).
Stocker Corridor’s dirt trail, on a sliver of land between Stocker Street at the bottom and View Park homes on the ridge, rises above the asphalt just a few blocks from the hum of the busy intersection at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King boulevards.
There are no signs and there is no marker at the eastern edge where the park begins near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall.
The entrance is nothing more than a dirt trail going up a hill, though it was supposed to have a wider path, markers along the trail, stretching areas, and landscaping.
Budget cuts kept it simple, says David McNeill, the executive director of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy.
Too simple, perhaps, to let most people know the pastoral trail is a maintained walking path.
those deficiencies keep a park from being welcoming both physically and mentally, says Doug Campbell, who teaches the history of landscape architecture at USC and designs parks in the Los Angeles area.
"You want to cross a threshold, through a gate or a portal," Campbell says. "It’s like a story. It separates you from the outside world, like a church or a school. The best parks have a destination that draws one in, and an edge as the enclosure helps users feel safe."
That the Stocker Corridor Trail or the Baldwins Hills Scenic Overlook even exist is a bit of a miracle. Both were saved from imminent development in service to a visionary multi-million dollar plan connecting Crenshaw to the ocean.
When the Park to Playa vision was announced in 2000, it sounded all but impossible — a seamless 13-mile trail to the Pacific Ocean through five jurisdictions, connecting five trails and seven parks.
The trail now begins just west of Crenshaw Boulevard and follows the Stocker Corridor Trail, which one day soon will connect with Ruben Ingold Park in View Park.
At Five Points — where La Brea Avenue, Overhill Drive and Stocker Street converge — the path crosses over to the city’s Norman O. Houston Park. Cross La Brea and you’re in the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. The path dead-ends at La Cienega Boulevard for now.
The Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority, created through a joint powers agreement between the county and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, created the plan and is working to finish it.
Today completion is tantalizingly close. The missing link is a few hundred yards of oil booms and derricks that lie between the Hahn Recreation area and the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. With a few parcels left to buy and a path to build, the Park to Playa will reach the Ballona Creek Bicycle Path in Culver City, which leads, without interruption, to the Ballona Wetlands and the beach.
Perhaps when the Park to Playa trail is completed, the finishing touches will be added to the Stocker Corridor Trail and more residents will discover this hidden passageway to health.
Eddie North-Hager is the founder and editor of hyper-local social network and news site Leimert Park Beat. This project was made possible through the support of the USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowship program, funded by The California Endowment.
The photo associated with this story was used courtesy of Flickr user maveric2003 under a Creative Commons License.