A summer-time experiment that opened the L.A. River to kayaking, fishing and other forms of recreation ends this holiday weekend.
The L.A. River Pilot Recreation Zone, which came into being on Memorial Day, allowed the public to walk, watch birds, kayak and fish on a 2.5 mile stretch of the Glendale Narrows waterway in Elysian Valley, opening this section of the river to recreational uses for the first time in decades.
Freeway drivers did double-takes as kayakers in brightly colored boats paddled down the river between its concrete banks. Bird watching groups spotted Green Heron and Double Crested Cormorants along the river banks. But all those activities will – legally – come to an end on Monday, September 2, at sunset.
“We had an amazing time,” said Steve Appleton, the head of the Elysian Valley Neighborhood Council. “Overall, this has been a positive experience for the community.”
Appleton, an artist who started a kayaking tour company, estimates that his firm alone guided about 1,000 kayakers down the river as part of paid excursions in addition to free community paddle events. Meanwhile, a guide with LA River Expeditions, said the outfitter handled about 2,000 kayakers this summer.
There were some problems. Some persons expressed concerns about the impact on nesting birds and other wildlife. There were also complaints from those who lived on streets where the kayakers emerged from the river. Storm drain runoff during some rare summer showers prompted officials to close the zone several times until the threat of possible contamination passed. In one of the more dramatic surprises, burning fuel from an overturned gasoline tanker flowed the storm drains under Elysian Valley and into the river bed on a Saturday morning. The gasoline did not end up contaminating the water but the spill closed the river zone for a few days.
A spokeswoman for the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, which managed the river zone, said the area is expected to reopen again next summer.
This weekend, Appleton and his guides will be busy through Labor Day with the last trips of the summer.
“We will be on the water until sunset.”