By BARRY LANK
Echo Park — It’s a hot day, but it doesn’t matter. The picnic tables are full on a Saturday afternoon – with older men slapping down cards and families playing bingo. A snack stand nearby sells elote straight off the grill. Closer to the water, two women take glamor shots of each other near a lush patch of floating plants, and a small girl pushes an even smaller girl on a hammock – pushes her hard enough to make turn it into a carnival ride.
This is Echo Park Lake five years after reopening from a multi-million-dollar clean-up. The park had been closed from July 2011 until June 2013. The Department of Public Works put in new pathways, new informational signs, and new wetlands. But the primary clean-up was the lake itself – which was drained, deepened and cleaned out for better water quality.
Not everything is as pristine as on that opening day five years ago. Homeless encampments dot portions of the surrounding park. Tagging has to be frequently cleaned up and rats scamper at sundown. But, judging from the throngs of weekend visitors who crowd the pathways, line up for the new swan boats and gaze at colorful water lilies and lotus blooms, Echo Park Lake remains a hit with the public five years after its makeover.
“It’s out-of-control amazing,” said Darrell Kunitomi, who said he’s been coming to the lake since at least the late 1950s. “Water is cleaner than ever, getting filtered of large stuff, aerated more than ever.”
Kunitomi, 65, is a seasoned angler who fished at the lake when he was growing up. “Today it is chock-full of fish, eight species worth catching I can count, and extremely healthy specimens,” he said. “Bass, bluegills, sunfish, tilapia, carp, catfish, koi, and trout (when stocked).”
A newcomer, Matt Brenneman, started coming to the lake only three year ago but shares Kunitomi’s views. Brenneman now lives in Filipinotown, partly because it’s only about a 15 minute walk to the lake.
“It’s honestly one of my favorite places in L.A.,” Brenneman said. “Like two months ago, my parents came to visit me from Florida just for a day. In that one day that I had to show them around, I still made sure to bring them out to Echo Park Lake. It might be the best place in L.A. that I know of to people-watch and see a huge mix of cultures in one small area.”
As for the homeless who still occupy parts of the park and have lived – on-and-off – out of cars parked nearby, Brenneman said, “There’s always going to be a few homeless people there, but not as many as you’d expect.”
“I have noticed that if I stick around late at night, a larger percentage of the people there tend to be homeless,” Brenneman said. “But even in that case, you’ll still see men and women running around the lake at 9 or even 10 p.m.”
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