Estuary at Willow Street

This walk begins where the concrete ends. Below Willow Street in Long Beach, the river has an earthen bottom with sides reinforced by boulder riprap levees. The walk features native plantings, pocket parks, and good bird-watching.

STARTING POINT
DeForest Avenue at 25th Way in Long Beach

DIRECTIONS TO THE START
BIKE: The walk starting point is easily accessed from the Lario Bike Trail, which runs on the east bank of the L.A. River from the Rio Hondo to the ocean (South Gate to Long Beach). Exit the bikeway at Willow Street; the exit ramp is located a couple blocks south of the under-crossing at Willow. It is easily to recognize because this is where the river transitions from concrete bottom to earthen bottom.

TRANSIT: Take the Metro Blue Line to the Willow Station in Long Beach. From there, walk south on Long Beach Boulevard to Willow Street. Walk west on Willow about 0.75 mile and turn left on Golden Ave. Turn right on 25th Way. Alternately, take the Long Beach Transit Bus #102 west on Willow. Get off at Golden, walk one block south on Golden, and then turn right onto 25th Way.

CAR: Exit the 710 Freeway at Willow Street in Long Beach. Go east on Willow Street. Turn right at the first signal onto Golden Avenue, and then take an immediate right onto 25th Way. Continue on 25th Way two blocks to DeForest Avenue. Convenient street parking is on 25th or DeForest.

WALKING DIRECTIONS
Walk south on DeForest Avenue. On your right, near 25th Street (not 25th Way), is an access ramp that ascends the levee wall. The outer levee wall is planted with native shrubs and trees, as part of the Los Angeles County Drainage Area (LACDA) project, which raised the height of the walls in the late 1990s.

Look out over the estuary. This is where the moving freshwater of the river meets the tidal-influenced saltwater of the sea. It's a unique area ecologically, with flora and fauna not found elsewhere. The river gurgles an audible sigh of relief here as it finally outruns the more than 20 uninterrupted miles of concrete bottom extending from downtown Los Angeles to Willow Street. You see plentiful bird life here including ducks, cormorants, egrets, herons, and more.

Turn left on the bike path and walk downstream. Make room for bicyclists! On your left is a neighborhood called Wrigley, which was one of the only areas where homeowners joined FoLAR's historic 1995 lawsuit against the county. The county, working with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), had planned to raise the levee walls as part of the LACDA project. FoLAR and its allies advocated for more ecological alternatives.

While FoLAR's lawsuit did not stop the project, some aspects of the project were softened. The plan initially called for 6- to 10-foot walls separating the community from the river. The walls were added in some areas, but, in this stretch, the county instead raised the levee top, without actual walls. The agency also included native plantings on the outer side of the levees. The lawsuit was settled in 1996, resulting in the formation of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council, a group that has brought together stakeholders to educate the public and plan steps toward healthier rivers and watersheds.

Continue walking downstream to the Pacific Coast Highway Bridge, where the bikeway descends. Exit through the access point in the fence and turn left to check out the Wrigley Property Maintenance Landscape Project, a pocket park created and maintained by the Wrigley Homeowners Association. The park features native plants and trees and a picnic area.

Turn around here and retrace your steps upstream for a 2-mile round-trip walk. If you want a longer walk, head downstream below the bridge. The path continues all the way to Golden Shore Marine Reserve, about 3 miles below Willow.

You may also wish to continue your walk north of Willow. Continue upstream on the bike path as it dips beneath the 1946 Willow Street Bridge. It's not a showy historic bridge, but the lighting standards are antique and quite pleasant. Also, look for cliff-swallows' mud nests attached to the underside of the bridge.

As you ascend back to the top of the levee upstream of Willow, you will notice a series of long, rectangular concrete boxes atop the concrete river bottom, just upstream of Willow. These devices serve as baffles, creating turbulence that causes high flows to spread out to the full channel width as it widens at this point. Also note the bulb-shaped devices on the upstream end of the piers of the Willow Street Bridge. They serve the same function.

One perhaps unintended consequence of the baffles on the channel floor is the increased deposition of sediment. The baffles cause the moving water to slow down; this releases dirt that the river is carrying. This sediment builds up on the channel floor over time, creating sandbars. The sandbars grow vegetation and host relatively large numbers of birds, especially for a concrete-bottom area. The best time of year to visit this area is late summer or early fall, as the county's Flood Control District clears the sediment in late September or early October, prior to the rainy season.

ENDING POINT
Turn around here and retrace your steps upstream for a 2-mile round-trip walk. If you want a longer walk, head downstream below the bridge. The path continues all the way to Golden Shore Marine Reserve, about 3 miles below Willow.

NEARBY PARKS
Santa Cruz Park
1.9 acres with benches, at the intersection of Shoreline and Ocean Boulevard

DINING
R & W Bar-B-Que
522 West Willow Street
Long Beach, CA 90806-2831
(562) 426-2129

Pupuseria Salvadorena
1336 West Willow Street
Long Beach, CA 90810-3144
(562) 426-6004

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