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Hiking: San Gabriel Valley

Transformation of the Rio Hondo

January 25, 1998|JOHN McKINNEY

Back in the 1930s, and for a few decades afterward, going to the beach had a different meaning than it does now. San Gabriel Valley families flocked not to Pacific shores but down by the river to a sand strand along the Rio Hondo that locals called Marrano Beach.

In those times gone by, a day along the river was like a day at the beach with sunning, swimming and picnicking. Such activities at Marrano Beach had a distinctly Spanish accent. Urban progress dimmed, then doomed the Rio Hondo as a recreation site. Invasive aquatic plants choked off access, making its "deep river" name in Spanish a misnomer.

Now, after more than 30 years of riparian abuse, there's some good news. Thanks to the skilled park-making abilities of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, as well as lots of community involvement and about $1 million in park bond money, an amazing landscape transformation has taken place on a stretch of the river between Whittier and Montebello. The popular name Marrano Beach (Spanish for "filthy" or "pig") is no longer apropos.

Directions to trail head: From California 60 (Pomona Freeway) in South El Monte, exit on Rosemead Boulevard and drive south 0.7 mile to San Gabriel Boulevard. Turn right, then make another right into the parking area for Bosque del Rio Hondo Natural Area.

The hike: Leave behind the park's Mission Revival-style entry gate and restrooms and walk toward the river. The path soon forks; the leftward path joins the bike path while the rightward one (Camino al Rio) leads to the river.

Once at the Rio Hondo, you can either follow the bikeway/walkway above the river or some sketchy, intermittent dirt paths closer to the water. You'll pass a couple of oil wells, some still, some still pumping, as well as unrestored segments of the Rio Hondo that are silty, sluggish, shopping cart repositories. On a happier note, enjoy clear-day views to the northeast of Mt. Baldy, towering above the San Gabriel Valley.

About 0.8 mile from the trail head, the path travels under the Pomona Freeway. Part company with the bike path, and join a wide sandy pathway that leads north through Whittier Narrows Recreation Area. The trail, which parallels the Rio Hondo, soon approaches a model airplane flying area. On a busy weekend it sounds like World War II is taking place in the airspace above the footpath.

Trail's end is the northern boundary of the recreation area at Rush Street.

McKinney's book "Day Hiker's Guide to Southern California" is available through The Times for $16.45 (including tax, shipping and handling) by calling (800) 246-4042.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Camino al Rio (Riverfront Trail)

WHERE: Bosque del Rio Hondo Natural Area.

DISTANCE: To Whittier Narrows Recreation Area is 3,5 miles round trip.

TERRAIN: Only remaining, free-flowing length of Rio Hondo.

HIGHLIGHTS: L.A. County's only riverfront beach.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Mountains Conservancy Foundation, tel. (310) 589-2400.

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