Ernie's Walk - Sherman Oaks
Ernie’s Walk is the earliest community effort to revitalize the Los Angeles River. Begun by retired local resident Ernie La Mere in 1987, the formerly very folksy garden site was refurbished by the County of Los Angeles in 2003. This walk traverses the popular 0.3-mile linear park, which features river rock seating walls, and native and non-native plantings along the concrete river channel.
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Intersection of Huston Street and Valley Heart Drive in Sherman Oaks.
Directions to the Start
Bike: There is no river bike path in this stretch. If riding from east of the site, take the convenient bike lanes on Riverside Drive. Follow Riverside to its end and turn right onto Van Nuys Boulevard. Take the first left onto Huston Street and continue west to Valleyheart Drive. The entrance to Ernie's Walk is on your left. To combine a 5-mile bike ride with public transportation, take the Metro Red Line to the North Hollywood Station. Go west onto Chandler Boulevard, left onto Hazeltine Ave., then right onto Riverside Drive, and then follow the directions above.
Transit: Take the Metro Red Line to Universal City Station. Board the Ventura Boulevard Rapid Bus (#750). Get off at Van Nuys Boulevard. Walk west 3 long blocks. Turn right on Kester Ave. Ernie's Walk is on your right, just past the 101 Freeway. At 1 mile, the walk from the bus stop is longer than the walk along the river.
Car: Exit the 101 Freeway at Van Nuys Blvd. Go north one block on Van Nuys Blvd. then left onto Huston St. Ernie's walk is on your left where Huston intersects Valleyheart Drive (just before Kester Ave.). Convenient on-street parking is on either Huston or Valleyheart.
Enter at the stairs or ramp by Kester Ave. and walk downstream along the river. Check out the assortment of native and non-native plants along the way. When, just past Cedros Avenue, you get to the County's locked gate across your path, turn back and retrace your steps.
It's easy to find your way around Ernie's walk. It's a small site, entirely linear, so take your time to explore. Those interested in flood protection engineering should take a look across the river at the weir (which runs parallel to the river from Kester for about 100'). These devices are placed at confluences to spread out large flows from tributaries, to prevent localized flooding.
In the 1980's, this stretch of river was strewn with weeds and plagued by illegal trash dumping. Retired local resident Ernie La Mere contacted various governmental agencies and prodded them until they finally came and cleared out the trash. In 1987, without waiting for permission, Ernie began planting flowers in the newly cleared river right-of-way. Soon, a few neighbors joined him in planting a colorful assortment of flowers, trees and shrubs. Ernie added benches, bulletin boards, "boot hill" (a mock graveyard with humorous epitaphs that later included some graves for deceased neighborhood pets), a deer crossing, and many more whimsical elements. A neighbor contributed a small sign declaring the site "Ernie's Walk". The walk became the initial site for the County's Adopt-A-Riverbank program in 1992.
When Ernie passed away in 1995, his grandson and other neighbors continued to maintain the site, though not quite with as much care as Ernie had. In 2003, the LA County Department of Public Works renovated the site. The county planted additional native landscaping, including more than a dozen cottonwood trees, and relocated many of Ernie's surviving plantings farther from the river in order to maintain clear maintenance vehicle access. The county also added river rock retaining walls, stairs, ramps, and new fencing. In keeping with Ernie's tradition, the county included plenty of flowering plants. They removed the dilapidated wood tombstones and replaced them with an institutional concrete marker that cryptically states "Ernie's Walk Pet Commemorative" (visible from Valley Heart near the upstream entrance).
While the County mini-park, which opened in 2004, bears little resemblance to Ernie's creation, it's green and inviting. The native plants are still getting themselves established and will continue to mature in the coming years.
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