LUNDSTEN: The Los Angeles River snakes 51 miles through the city, under crowded freeways and past busy neighborhoods.


AMBI: River sounds...


LUNDSTEN: Most people don’t even know Los Angeles *has a river. That’s because it doesn’t really look like one. In the 1930s it was cemented to control unpredictable flooding. Since then it’s been the victim of tagging, pollution, and industrial blight. But a section of the LA River -- known as the Glendale Narrows -- is being restored as part of Rio de Los Angeles State Park.


AMBI: Kids playing in the park on the jungle gym, LA birds chirping, soccer, baseballs being hit.


LUNDSTEN: Besides the River, the Park offers soccer and baseball fields, tennis courts, a playground, picnic areas, and hiking trails. Sean Woods is Superintendent for the Los Angeles sector of California State Parks. He says the development of Rio was crucial for the city, which has little public open space – and especially important for the Northeast LA neighborhoods the park serves.


SEAN WOODS: The communities that surround Rio de Los Angeles are some of the *most park poor communities in the city of Los Angeles.


LUNDSTEN: But Woods says turning what was once a trainyard into a park wasn’t easy. It took many years, lots of volunteers, and major cooperation.


WOODS: So the idea for this area initially was a huge industrial park and what happened was the local community rose up against it. A coalition began to form.


LUNDSTEN: He says over *thirty-six organizations, including social groups, the Natural Resource Defense Council, the California State Parks Foundation, and people from the community mobilized.


WOODS: Through a lawsuit they beat back big development and stopped the industrial park.


LUNDSTEN: Woods says after that victory the next challenge was figuring out how to ensure each group got what they wanted in the space. Melanie Winter, director of the LA River Project, wanted to restore the river. She says that’s because Glendale Narrows is significant to LA’s history.


WINTER: When the Portola Expedition came up here in the 1700s…and looked around and they just – in today’s parlance, their minds were blown.... The native wildflowers and native grasses in the hills were very colorful and verdant and green and the river they described as a wide, flowing river. They really did say this was the most beautiful place they had seen to date from their journey up from Baja, California to here.


LUNDSTEN: Winter says it was also important to protect the wildlife. There are about *200 species of birds that use the LA River as part of the Pacific flyway – ducks, cormorinths, night herons, red-legged stilts, and even snowy egrets.


WINTER: So the impetus to want to bring that back and to uncover that and to restore that resonates on so many levels – ecologically-speaking, historically-speaking, culturally-speaking, a sense of pride, a sense of place.


LUNDSTEN: Raul Macias, local resident and head of Anahuak Youth Sport Association – a soccer club for at-risk kids – was on-board with the plan to restore the natural landscape, but he *also wanted to make sure the local community got what they wanted. Macias says there were some long hours and lengthy discussions, but by working together the park has something for everyone.


MACIAS: Never before did the environmental people think that active recreation it could be born...and finally they say half and half – 20 acres active, 20 acres passive.


LUNDSTEN: Melanie Winter agrees.


WINTER: This park’s importance to the community – there are so many levels to that. The history behind the community coming together to make this park happen was truly extraordinary and it energized the community – it reached across neighborhoods that didn’t often get along really well and provided an issue that they could all agree on and work together towards.


LUNDSTEN: Raul Macias has seen a transformation in his neighbors.


MACIAS: I am so proud, you know, this park changed the mentality of a lot of people because they have seen that anything is possible and everybody counts.


LUNDSTEN: Superintendent Sean Woods says all the hard work paid off.


WOODS: It’s incredible. Rio de Los Angeles since it’s opening last April has been incredibly successful. If you come out here on weekends there could be anywhere from two to three thousand people using the park.


LUNDSTEN: Woods says so far 40 acres of Rio have been developed, but there are plans for future projects – like bringing back more of the wetlands and turning the LA River into a world-class destination.


WOODS: The long-term vision is to create a river that we can be proud of – something like the Seine or the Thames or other great rivers of the world.  


LUNDSTEN: Woods says a river like that would show visitors a different side of LA – the one that captivated Portola hundreds of years ago. You can find out more about visiting Rio de Los Angeles State Park at


OUTRO: If you want to find out more about *supporting all of California’s state parks, visit the California State Parks Foundation website and join our 90,000 members.  This podcast was brought to you thanks to a generous donation from Bill Bryan.