“The Los Angeles River is a flood control channel, 52 miles long, encased in cement. It is not navigable.” - Colonel Thomas Magness, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Boating? On the LA River?? But it’s a flood control channel. And it’s too shallow, and too dirty, and way too urban. Right?
Well, not quite.
In 2008, George Wolfe, a journalist and river activist, organized a kayak trip to prove otherwise. It was subversive. It was illegal. And yet, as he led a small group of kayaks down the river over the course of a weekend, it was successful. George Wolfe proved the LA River is navigable.
Two years later, the Feds finally agreed. In July 2010, Lisa Jackson, an EPA administrator, declared that the full length of the channel is indeed a “traditional navigable waterway”. Not just a victory for river enthusiasts, this new designation opens the door for more stringent protections under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Welcome news for our river, and for those who use it for boating, fishing, and other recreational and commercial opportunities. Check this 2 minute video about this this historic declaration.
Just a few weeks later, Wolfe organized second paddle trip. Unlike the first, witnessed only by a few bloggers and a single LA Times photographer, this expedition went forth with great fanfare. Wolf invited a flotilla of fellow activists, and was joined by three reporters from the Times.
The newspaper’s story was, for many, an eye-opener. L.A. actually does have a real river. The expedition, the Times pronounced, “offers a glimpse into the potential recreational and environmental jewel running through the city.”
Soon after, Col. Mark Toy, the new head of the Army Corps, toured the Glendale Narrows section and admitted that "The time has come to find a balance between flood control, recreation and habitat restoration on this beautiful river."
Since then, Councilmen Ed Reyes and Tom LaBonge, who co-chair the city’s Ad Hoc River Committee, have been working with the Department of Parks and Recreation to create a program under which approved outfitters can take the public kayaking through at least two sections of the river. So sharpen your paddling skills – boating on the LA River is coming in the months ahead.
George Wolfe hopes to be among the outfitters selected by the city. To that end, he has launched a website, L.A. River Expeditions, to let wannabe kayakers sign up for the tours-to-be.
More news soon!
- photos courtesy of Tom Andrews / LAist