State park worker shares his love of the great outdoors with an urban audience


Luis Rincon at Los Angeles State Historic Park| Nathan Solis



5 Question ProfileLuis Rincon is surrounded by upturned mounds of earth. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the scene, with views of downtown skyscrapers and warehouses, but this is a state park – Los Angeles State Historic Park just across the river from Lincoln Heights.  During the past year, this 32-acre swath of land has looked more like a construction than a state park as it undergoes an extensive renovation. But as a Park Interpretive Specialist, Rincon, 36, is in tune with the land, with the native plant life and he’s overjoyed at the renovation to the 32 acre park on the north side of Chinatown.

As a boy growing up in El Sereno a few miles from where he now works, wildlife seemed exotic to Rincon. He loved the outdoors and  fishing with his father. Thanks to career programs in high school, Rincon worked in the Western Sierras clearing trails and deepened his love with the outdoors. When it came time to go to college, he headed to Humboldt State in Northern California, where he found himself living away from Los Angeles for the first  time and receiving a dose of culture shock.

Now, Rincon has returned home, giving tours of urban wetlands and riverside parks not far from where he grew up and introducing a whole new generation to the great outdoors that can be found in the middle of Los Angeles.

“We want to reach the urban audience, to engage people and show them that open space is important.”

What is your connection to the area that you’re serving as a Park Interpretive Specialist?

The story is layered. When I first reported in at the outreach office at El Pueblo it was a full circle for me. I’m supposed to be here, I thought. My great grandparents had a puesto at Olvera Street and my dad worked there. Then my siblings and I worked there. Now to go back to L.A.’s historic core with the Park’s Department is full circle.

What type of role do you play here in a park in the middle of the city?
I’m here and [go] out to schools, to after-school nature programs and reach out to the underrepresented groups – like the children in the projects, the other locals who might be afraid of what parks typically represent – and then I get to connect people with their park. Here, I am someone in a uniform who will relate to them, in English or Spanish, over this vast public facility. We want to reach the urban audience, to engage people and show them that open space is important, because sometimes it’s in the background and doesn’t seem vital to them. But it’s the most vital, most important part of the community.

How have the renovations impacted your job?
I’ve used it as an opportunity to engage other parks. We’ve created a native plant garden at a partnership park. And then we had a camping event on the L.A. River. One of my last presentations was to MASA … they’re a mental health organization and they target the Mexican-American community. The use of open space was the focus … emphasizing that outdoor recreation has a therapeutic quality beneficial to their client’s needs.

How important a role do you think open spaces play in L.A.’s future?

I think it’s critical. People need to recreate. Our connection to the outdoors and our need to connect is part of the human development. It’s vital that these open spaces remain… well open and people remain engaged.

What’s the goal of your efforts?
The ultimate goal is to create a stewardship with these open spaces, where people are informed about their environment and feel a need to tend and care for them. That’s something we need to pass on to future generations – a sense of responsibility in conserving water, not dumping our trash.


Nathan Solis is a Highland Park resident who writes about and photographs the L.A. music scene. You can find more of Solis’ stories, reviews and photos at Avenue Meander.


  1. I think I would have asked him, “If open spaces are so critical, why did the department throw away a winning design from a world renowned landscape architecture firm for the LASHP and instead choose to build a design that is but a shadow of the winning design?”

    Or maybe, “why is the parks department still planning on giving Northeast Trees more parks projects after the dismal design failure of the Rio de Los Angeles State Park?”

    • hopalong chastity

      You may have some very important questions, but I doubt this guy has the answers.
      The political hierarchy wields control over the decisions on programming and expenditure for this park property.
      Ex-Mayor Villaraigosa, current Mayor Garcetti, City Councilmembers recent and/or currently in office, CA State representatives from this area – they need to explain the decisions which were made.

      Maybe the final product once unveiled will deliver more satisfaction than you are expecting.
      The Cornfield project met with lots of doubt and resistance when it was proposed. It delivered fantastic experiences and interactions during its tenure.

      I have my own suspicions about the forces underlying the vision for the SHPark which is now locked in and under construction.

      This is only speculation, but
      I believe the political establishment strongly favored the choice of a delicate landscape for the site.

      That will cause the staffing level to be skewed towards facilitating passive uses and providing security to prevent foot-traffic from trespassing and trampling beyond the approved pathways. The design will justify a narrow range of operating hours and allow them to close the gates at sunset.

      Some of the past festival events produced on the site appealed directly to very youthful demographic.
      The political establishment feels threatened by the energy and unpredictability of this young audience because they don’t yet control it.
      They wanted a park design that excludes the potential for a weekend music festival which could spontaneously turn the park site into a Woodstock/Occupy movement.

      Their greatest fear is a movement that could reject the current socio/political paradigm and declare independence for a new generation.
      The State Historic Park Site is probably the best and maybe the only public site in the city which could sustain and maintain a long term encamped youth movement.
      Its location directly in the shadow cast by the largest concentration of governmental and judicial operations on the west coast, thus highly visible and impossible to dismiss or ignore.
      Yet the site is contained and isolated just far enough away that it cannot be shut down by force using an argument that it poses an unacceptable interference to daily governmental operations, as did Occupy at L.A. City Hall.

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