Nature was out to play today at the much anticipated opening of Phase I of Glendale Narrows Riverwalk. A smattering of rain showered guests from local government, community leaders, and neighbors, as cyclists glided, horses pranced, and dogs jumped at the leash.
"[The Riverwalk] really improves the character of the riverside area," said John Pearson, the park's project manager. "In the past that's just been the back of Disney and Dreamworks lots. There's been graffiti, vandalism and gang activity back there."
What used to be a seedy, insecure lot has now been transformed into a half-mile of recreational area on the north bank of the Los Angeles river, newly lined with native California trees and shrubs. Benches, seating areas and wide-open paths welcome visitors, as well as a public art installation inspired by stop motion. An ornamental fencing depicting scenes from the Los Angeles River fabricated by artist Brett Goldstone delicately encloses this new community treasure.
"I've been waiting so long for this park to open," says resident mother Lea Ubas, who came to the opening with her son. "This is a change for good, especially for families."
The Riverwalk provides generous views of one of the few portions of Los Angeles River not encased in concrete.
As visitors walked by, herons and cormorants swooped, while mallards slipped past just a few feet from them. "It's gorgeous, isn't it?" commented Goldstone, who gazed on the strange juxtaposition of a wild Los Angeles river surrounded by the 5 and 134 freeways.
Eager cyclists came to witness yet another segment of the Los Angeles river become more accessible. "This is nice," said Ricahrd Wedeen of the Los Angeles Wheelmen. "I hope recreational areas like this encourage more people on bicycles."
Perhaps one of the greatest boons the Riverwalk offers the neighborhood is its refreshed equestrian facilities. "The entire neighborhood adjacent to the Riverwalk is an equestrian overlay zone," said Pearson. "They had no place to turn out or ride the horses except the city streets." Now, equestrian homeowners have a facility that allows them to exercise their horses before heading out to Griffith Park.
A negotiated easement between the 1960s apartment complex also made access to the equestrian facility possible. The city hopes such increased facilities would only strengthen Glendale's equestrian community, a sentiment Glendale councilwoman Laura Friedman emphasized by riding a horse through the Riverwalk's gates.
"There used to be triple the homeowners with horses around here," said Alison Dyer, who lives down the street from the Riverwalk, "I hope this would convince more horse owners to move here."
Not everyone wishes to be more conspicuous, however. BJ Kincler was decidedly lukewarm about the grand opening. "This is going to open the park to more people and there's enough that come down here already looking for horses to rent or getting turned around." Kincler is waiting to see how the dust settles before making her final pronouncement on the park.
In a few years, even more change will come to the area. "When all of this is complete, it will be the longest bike path and recreational area in the United States," proudly announced Glendale mayor Frank Quintero.
The city's next challenge is to complete Phase II and III of the Riverwalk. Much of Phase II has been built during the construction of the Fairmont Avenue flyover extension and, with the $475,000 in Measure R funding and a just-announced $975,000 from Proposition 84, the city already has enough in its coffers to finish construction within the next two years. When complete, Phase I and II combined would make Glendale the only city along the Los Angeles River whose whole riverfront is dedicated to recreation.
Funding for Phase III is still limited to $600,000 of Measure R money for preliminary engineering. The city plans to have two bridges built, one across the Los Angeles river into Griffith Park and another across the Verdugo Wash into Atwater Village. Such a project would "probably be in excess of $5,000,000," estimates Pearson. The cost would vary depending on the location and specific criteria determined for the bridges.