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Innovative Wetlands Park Opens in South Los Angeles

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Artificial wetlands carved out from the industrial tundra of South Los Angeles were dedicated last week, giving neighborhood stakeholders and local schoolchildren the chance to go past the fence and explore the completed new green space for the first time.

The South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, re-purposed from a former bus and rail yard, expands ways to re-green a region through public space while cleaning up the waters.

Visitors enter the park off of Avalon, leaving behind a neighborhood packed with older homes, dusty warehouses, and small tiendas painted with Guadalupes. They are greeted by a fountain on the right, and an massive former garage on the left that later will be rehabbed into an education center and rail museum.

Wetland Nature Park signs help educate guests and schoolchildren I Photo by Ed Fuentes
Wetland Nature Park signs help educate guests and schoolchildren I Photo by Ed Fuentes

District Nine Councilmember Jan Perry introduced the passive nature center, costing $26 million, by thanking the multiple civic partnerships. Then she waved over uniformed park rangers standing by to take over guardianship of the park.

The four and one-half acres of wetlands sits on a nine-acre parcel planted with eighty-eight native trees and an abundance of plants. Running past the ameoba-shaped ponds are forty solar trees, and just over one mile of groomed dirt trails - accented with bridges - that take park-goers from a small parking lot at the entrance to a boulder garden on the opposite end of the site.

A rendering of how the South Los Angeles Wetlands Nature Park will be eventually realized I Image courtesy of City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program
A rendering of how the South Los Angeles Wetlands Nature Park will be eventually realized I Image courtesy of City of Los Angeles Stormwater Program

Storm water arriving by a pipe drain under San Pedro is detoured into a small treatment facility that filters away trash and chemicals, such as oil from city streets. The water then takes a circular trip in an underground pipe around the park before being delivered into the pools, where bacteria naturally cleans up the remaining pollutants. The cleaner water is sent on its way to the Los Angeles River where it makes its way to the ocean.

During a hard rain, this artificial wetland can handle up to 680,000 gallons of stormwater per day.

John Kemmerer, associate director of the water division at the Environmental Protection Agency, said the park is a model program showing other urban centers how to treat runoff. "This is green infrastructure," he said. "L.A. is one of ten cities that has been designated as green infrastructure partnered community.

It exemplifies a larger effort to protect the vast Los Angeles River watershed, part of the Urban Water Federal Partnership Pilot in which a city finds ways to support water systems while departments "leverage off each other," as he told KCET.

The project, led by Perry, tapped into the resources of Public Works, the Bureau of Engineering, Bureau of Sanitation, and Recreation and Parks. It is funded by Proposition O, a 2004 bond measure that earmarked money for municipal water quality projects, including river and neighborhood parks that prevent polluted runoff. State and local grant money and funds from MTA and EPA also supplemented monies.

South Los Angeles Wetlands Nature Park I Photo by Justin Cram
South Los Angeles Wetlands Nature Park I Photo by Justin Cram

Though barren for now, one can visit the first project of its kind just over a mile away. The Augustus F. Hawkins Wetlands Park's eight acres on the corner of Compton Ave. and Slauson Ave, a former pipe storage yard, shows the growth the new park can expect after a few seasons of rain. There the landscape has grown into a lush habitat that sees regular visits from birds and local residents.

The park also attracts those who explore the city's broader vision of itself. "It's a step in the right direction," said James Rojas, a city and transportation planner who facilitates urban workshops, and who has visited the first wetlands. "It sets a new standard, a new precedent in how to tackle these kinds of issues, and how to rethink our landscape."

"In order for Los Angeles to be a city of the future, we have retool it," he said, noting how the two low impact park wetlands "balances out people's open space needs."

Other experts who may have insight on the perceived success of the park were the children who attended the ribbon cutting. When a group from 49th Street Elementary School were asked if they would miss a soccer field, they all agreed that this park is just as important. "Birds need a place to play, too" said one fourth-grader.

Wetlands March I Photo by Ed Fuentes
Wetlands March I Photo by Ed Fuentes

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