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A Park a Day: The Los Angeles River Greenway, Elysian Valley

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July is National Parks & Recreation Month, and all month long LAist will be featuring a hand-selected park a day to showcase just a few of the wonderful recreation spaces--big or small--in the Los Angeles area.

Over years of biking down the Los Angeles River path between Burbank and Downtown, I've watched the Los Angeles River Greenway's efforts bring new enhancements, public spaces and pocket parks along the river. They're small and sparse through Elysian Valley, but I thought I'd give them a nod, since they have brought more green space to the city, themed on the wildlife found in the area.

If you're driving down Riverside Drive toward downtown, you might have noticed Oso Park and Egret Park from the road. These two parks are at the southern-most part of the river bike path before it ends in downtown. Oso park is a nice sitting area with an iron sculpture of a bear, surrounded by sycamore trees among quiet streets in Elysian Valley. Egret Park marks the end of the path with shaded benches looking out over the river, with interpretive exhibits about the wildlife and native plants you might find here. Though not continuously occupied, Egret Park is a great resting spot for those enjoying the river bike path, and the neighborhood around Oso Park was alive with morning walkers on my last visit.

A bit further upstream, Steelhead Park is a riverside garden bordering the bike path with a small amphitheater for education against the backdrop of the river. This park is also planted with native plants and offers a quiet break or a picnic spot for those on the bike path. The theme for this park is marked by Steelhead Trout atop its entry gate and a fence bordering the path of swimming fish.

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Continuing upstream, you'll come to Elysian Valley Gateway Park, the first park in the Los Angeles River Greenway's project plan, which replaced a dilapidated house that used to sit on the property. Adding to existing native plants, the park is now a nice lawn with picnic benches, used regularly by Friends of the Los Angeles River for educational programs. A bit further up still, you'll hit Marsh Park, a 3-acre park with dirt paths and nature-themed play structures for kids, and home to a new natural water filtration system for the river. The idea is, street runoff collects in a man-made marsh, so the water goes through an infiltration process, allowing the removal of trash and other pollutants before water enters the river or soaks into the aquifer. This park is planted with native marshland and upland plants, which assist with the process while encouraging birds and butterflies to visit.

Up by the Fletcher Bridge, you'll come to Rattlesnake Park, a sitting area lined with stone benches. At the street level, there are the Great Heron Gates, that welcome visitors to the north entrance of the greenway. If you cross Fletcher to the north entrance to the bike path, you'll notice another little park off Crystal Street, which is a bike staging area, with room for repair and an air pump. Though it's not part of the Greenway project, it's worth noting for any cyclists who need to adjust their bikes in a pinch while riding.

Along the way, if you're taking the river path, you'll notice some nice bench installations among trees and plants for taking a load off and enjoying the view. There are a few edible native plants along the river, notably passion fruit, elderberries and grapes, which can be found near the parks and benches, in addition to some of the overhanging fruit from people's yards. On my walk, I saw cyclists, skateboarders, rollerbladers, runners and walkers, in addition to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps who seemed to be surveying part of the Glendale Narrows (a part of the river that has a natural softbed rather than concrete, allowing for trees and greenery to grow on the sand banks in the river). All these people were friendly, most of them exchanged hellos with me as they passed. What I didn't see were the people who come by and add graffiti or deface the interpretive exhibits, which is clearly happening, though not on mid-morning weekdays.

Of the non-people variety, I saw various finches and sparrows in the parks, ducks along the river, and was lucky enough to watch a blue heron fly downstream and land in a clearing. It's hard to tell in the photo, but this bird is easily 4 feet tall. The river is home to blackbirds, egrets, hummingbirds, hawks and doves, among others. In addition to the edible plants, there is California Bay Laurel, White Alder, and Cottonwoods. The sandy shores can be home to rattlesnakes and lizards, while the water is home to various frogs, salamanders, and a few species of fish. Though there are no more Steelhead Trout, today you can find Common Carp, Bullhead and Amazon sailfin catfish and Tilapia. One of my favorite finds wasn't exactly wildlife, but this flock of chickens that came running to the fence of their yard as i passed. Look at them fancy feathers!

For more on the LA River, check out Friends of The Los Angeles River's site. For more information on the Los Angeles River Greenway, see their page on lamountains.com. The Department of Public Works has a section dedicated to the Los Angeles River master plan, and thelariver.com shows some interesting renderings of "future possibilities" for the river. In the meantime, though, it's there for your daily enjoyment (more pictures i took on this walk are here). And if it turns out that Chris Farley was right, and we do end up "in a VAN down by the RIVER" at least there are some nice open spaces and edible wild food to keep things interesting.