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North Valleyheart Riverwalk Greens the Way in Studio City

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Artist Kevin Carman works on a mural at the Valleyheart Riverwalk in Studio City | Photo: Carren Jao

People crave green, open spaces -- and they will go to great lengths to find it. Residents on the north side of the Los Angeles River in Studio City have, for years, been traversing a concrete slope just to get to the dusty, riverside trail. Come June 21, that will no longer be the case.

This Saturday at 11 a.m., the gates will officially open for the North Valleyheart Riverwalk Project, a $3.5 million project funded by  Los Angeles County Flood Control District that rehabilitates the river trail from Studio City to Sherman Oaks. The trail covers half a mile, from Coldwater Canyon to the east to Fulton Avenue to the west. It forms a one-mile loop with the southern portion of the trail.

Instead of a gung-ho entrance, residents will be greeted with an inviting space that telegraphs: "Welcome to the Los Angeles River." At Fulton Avenue, the barrier to the service access road has been removed, replaced by a multi-use trail. A ramped entry (and also a concrete and stone stairway) opens up at Ethel Avenue. Another concrete entry is available at Coldwater Canyon. Stone seat walls pepper the trail, shaded by California native shrubs to help hold the soil. Decomposed granite paths are ideal walkways for joggers, pet owners walking their dogs, or just pedestrians looking for respite from the city. The whole project adds beauty, and yet another entry for Angelenos looking to enjoy the benefits of being close to nature while still living in the city.

One beautiful feature of the project is a 10 by 20 feet stone mosaic mural of a steelhead trout created by artist Kevin Carman. "I've always had an affinity for stones," says Carman, as I observed him and his assistant bring beauty to what was once an unsightly concrete slab on Ethel Avenue.

"It was an eyesore," says Rick Rabins, president of the Village Gardeners. Rabins and the Village Gardeners had been wondering what kind of artwork to put by the North Valleyheart Riverwalk that was both attractive, but hardy. Given its public location, the artwork would have to hold up against the elements and be resistant to vandalism. When Rabins came across Carman's mosaic works, it seemed the perfect solution.

A sample of Carman's work
A sample of Carman's work
Adding a little bit of stone to the mosaic
Adding a little bit of stone to the mosaic

Though many have seen a mosaic artwork, Carman's sets itself apart by its complexity. Instead of facing rocks on their backs with the flat side showing up, Carman places each rock on its side, enabling him to create more sophisticated patterns. Carman ultimately used about 40,000 on the mosaic (though the artist did not keep a clear count.)

The artist collected the rocks over two months in January and February, looking for particular shades grays, pinks and golds. The pebbles were then sorted by color thanks to Village Gardener volunteers last April. From there, Carman once again stepped in, sketching out a design at the actual site itself. Carman and his assistant placed the rocks on its edge, forming a pattern using dry mortar. The final project was then finished with penetrating sealer that protects it from moisture and other elements.

The project took about a month to finish once all the stones were collected and sorted; Carman says he looks forward to seeing the work for years to come. "I see this project as a stylized representation of what was here and what could possibly be back in the future," Carman says optimistically. In the meantime, Studio City and Sherman Oaks residents now have a constant reminder of the Los Angeles River's endangered ecology, which Rabins hopes will spark even more interest in protecting the river's urban flora and fauna.

The mosaic will receive its final coating this week, which will enhance its color and vibrance. Check out the completed mosaic at the North Valleyheart Ribbon-cutting ceremony this Saturday 11 a.m. at Ethel Avenue and Valleyheart Drive, Studio City 91423. (Between Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Fulton Avenue.)

The North Valleyheart Riverwalk new entry on Ethel Avenue
The North Valleyheart Riverwalk new entry on Ethel Avenue
Looking west toward Fulton Avenue
Looking west toward Fulton Avenue

Photos: Carren Jao

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