Over 3,000 people participated in this summer's pilot recreational zone in Glendale Narrows, according to Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) Chief Ranger Fernando Gomez, as he addressed community members who showed up for the town hall meeting on the recreational zone held a day after the government shutdown.
People who enjoyed the recreational zone included kayakers with the MRCA's two accredited vendors L.A. River Kayak Safari and L.A. River Expeditions; those who went down to the river on their own; participants with disabilities who joined the MRCA's ADA kayaking program; plus local youth and residents who availed of the free paddle night programs.
No major incidents occurred during the whole program, thanks in no small part to the MRCA's Rangers who patrolled above and beyond their duty hours. "We patrolled the heck out of this river," said Gomez. The rangers invested more than 1,000 man hours on patrol, for which they requested no additional funding, according to Gomez.
The rangers' efforts were not unnoticed. "Having the presence of so many people in the path and the river was a benefit to the community," said Alex Vendler, who lived along the recreational zone's path. He said the increased activity deterred vandals from the streets and made the neighborhood feel safer.
All eighteen attendees at the meeting agreed that the recreational zone was a welcome summer activity, but they all had varying ideas of how it should progress in the next years.
Some contemplated expanding the program, either by having it run for a longer period, or extending the recreational zone further along the river. Lila Higgins, who lives in Koreatown, would be interested in seeing the recreational zone expand to other parts of the river.
"There was no consensus in terms of time extension, and we weren't really able to discuss extending the program spatially," said Kat Superfinsky, a new transplant to Los Angeles with an interest in the Los Angeles River.
Others wanted the recreational zone to remain as it was, confined within the 2.5-mile stretch in Elysian Valley. "There are other forms of recreation on the river, not just kayaking," pointed out Karen from Elysian Valley. She noted that during the summer, kayakers looking for the most convenient areas to leave their cars overwhelmed residential parking. By encouraging other forms of recreation, Angelenos could discover the river in other ways.
Despite initial complaints by pet owners who objected the ban on domesticated animals on the river, town hall attendees noted there weren't many instances of pets in the river. Some did see a dog riding a kayak. There were also reports of a dog paddling right in the river, which isn't allowed by current recreational zone regulations.
Other inconveniences were reported as well. There were many three-pronged fishhooks left by careless fishermen; in response, Steve Appleton, a resident who also operated one of the kayak programs, suggested creating a fishing education program, which could be an additional activity targeted to families.
Others reported that many kayakers often found themselves without a nearby restroom to relieve themselves. They often had to beg a nearby construction site for the use of their portable potties. "I've found that true, especially of morning kayakers who've had their cup of coffee already," said Grove Pashley, who works with Appleton at L.A. River Kayak Safari.
One major issue that needs to be resolved is ensuring adequate patrols in succeeding iterations. This year, the MRCA patrolled way beyond their allotment. It is an unsustainable arrangement if the program is to continue. In response, suggestions of volunteer patrol programs were brought up, as well as finding additional funding for the additional man hours needed.
Overall, the recreational zone found favor in the community. But the question now is, where does it go from here? It's clear that managing the growth of such an activity needs to be done with care so that it benefits the immediate neighborhoods, as well as opens the river to other Angelenos.
The community's comments from the town hall meeting will be included in the MRCA's presentation to the City Council at a later date. "It's not up to us," said Gomez. "This is a city project. It's up to the elected officials and their constituents."