Urban Wildlife Refuge Part 4: Paddles Meet Pavement in Southern California

Despite heavy development since the 1930s, parts of the L.A. River still flow freely through heavily populated cities and deliver close-to-home recreation opportunities to 9 million urban residents.

By Kristen Pope November 5, 2015

When Southern California residents think of the Los Angeles River, most think of pavement and fences. That’s because 80 percent of the waterway—which was once home to steelhead trout and grizzly bears—has been paved since the 1930s. But the L.A. River still provides ample opportunities for urban residents to connect with nature, and it is an especially valuable resource because it passes near the homes of nearly 9 million Southern California residents.

urbanrefuge_14495933

Los Angeles, California: The LA River and restoration efforts by the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Andrew Yuen is the project leader for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which oversees much of the work along the L.A. River in partnership with the Friends of the Los Angeles River and the LA Conservation Corps.

“We are using our partnerships with both [groups] to develop the next generation of conservation biologists, scientists and advocates,” Yuen says. “That then translates into an improved quality of life and opportunity to explore and for the public to get out and walk along stretches of the L.A. River.”

“As the second largest metropolitan area in the United States with 17 million people, Southern California can be a laboratory for the rest of the country to show how to help people who live in a world made of bricks and concrete connect with a world of grass and rivers, fish and wildlife. Helping kids feel welcome on public lands at a young age can help create the next generation of conservationists or spark a passion to be good stewards of nature that will last a lifetime.” —Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. 

One key element of the effort is a modified RV dubbed the “River Rover.” The Friends of the Los Angeles River operates the mobile visitor and education center to help connect families with nature. It offers self-directed and staff-guided activities to teach people about river ecology and the watershed. The LA Conservation Corps program also helps young people learn about the river.

Urban Wildlife Conservation: Los Angeles | Restoration + Recreation from Tandem Stills + Motion, Inc. on Vimeo.

During the summer months, the public can learn how to kayak with the LA Conservation Corps’ Paddle the L.A. River program. “From Friday through Sunday, our staff and Corps members lead kayakers on scenic trips down a small stretch of the river,” says Kea Duggan, LA Conservation Corps marketing director. “This hidden gem is a quiet oasis, and paddlers will see lush greenery, as well as a number of bird and fish species.”

Visit the Fish and Wildlife Service to find the refuge closest to you.

Members of the LA Conservation Corps are also working to restore habitat along the river. These projects are one way local brands can become involved with work along the river. “Our work is more impactful in numbers, so we offer opportunities for local businesses to come work alongside our youth to learn more about the ecology of the river and the impact their work is having on the surroundings,” Duggan says.

Groups that want to become involved can also work with the LA Conservation Corps to develop custom partnerships. “Our goal is to help our members learn about career opportunities available to them following their time here at the LA Conservation Corps, so we would love to talk to organizations that would consider being a part of our Career Pathways program, through which we can assist youth who have worked with us over the last two years and who have a wide range of marketable skills secure employment,” Duggan says.

Other opportunities include joining stewardship events, clean-up days, restoration projects and even sponsoring events. “We’ve had a variety of different groups do conservation projects on the refuge,” Yuen notes.

August 31, 2015: Los Angeles, California - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Los Angeles Conservation Corps and  Friends of the Los Angeles River came together on Saturday to celebrate their partnership and the revitalization of the LA River. los angeles, river, community, LA, california, southern, southland, revitalization, restoration, event, partnerships

August 31, 2015: Los Angeles, California – The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Los Angeles Conservation Corps and Friends of the Los Angeles River came together on Saturday to celebrate their partnership and the revitalization of the LA River. los angeles, river, community, LA, california, southern, southland, revitalization, restoration, event, partnerships

Duggan invites outdoor brands and retailers to come out to the river and work with the partners. “Every day on the river as a part of the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program is different,” says Duggan. But what brands and retailers will be most surprised to see are at-risk youth who come from under-served communities successfully completing incredibly high-profile and intricate projects that have a critical impact on the health of the urban refuge. “They are taking their knowledge back to their communities and inspiring others to learn about the natural environment that surrounds them and to become part of the solution,” says Duggan.


Read about five other urban refuges from coast to coast and our tips to help outdoor brands and retailers tap into these unique resources.

1. America’s First Urban Wildlife Refuge, Philadelphia’s John Heinz at Tinicum
2. New Orleans’ Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge
3. Portland’s Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge
4. L.A. River and the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge
5. Albuquerque’s Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
6. Denver’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Visit the Fish and Wildlife Service to find the refuge closest to you.

0