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A River of Revelations

May 19, 2000|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Friends of the Los Angeles River on Sunday will inaugurate a new event in the group's popular series of nature walks--an exploration along an underappreciated stretch of the river that runs through Glendale and Burbank to the Headworks Spreading Grounds.

"It's an overlooked place for a stroll, but in 1995 this was the first part of the river our organization chose to have official canoe rides" to promote river appreciation, said Joe Linton, who coordinates these monthly events for the Friends organization and on Sunday will escort participants along the two-mile route.

Walkers are asked to meet at 4:30 p.m. at the Riverside Bridge, which is next to the Bette Davis Picnic Area, at Riverside Drive and Victory Boulevard on the Glendale border with Griffith Park. "I'll have a big blue sign," Linton promised, "and then we'll cross over the bridge and walk upriver along the south bank up to the Headworks Spreading Grounds area and back."

Linton, in a recent interview at the bridge, talked about river lore. "Bette Davis is rumored to have had one of these houses bordering this picnic area," he said, gesturing to a row of ranch-style homes and an adjacent equestrian-supply shop on Riverside Drive. "But I've seen pictures from the 1930s showing that this land became the course of the river when it 'meandered' during a flood." (For local history buffs, there's a startling aerial photograph of the event on display at the nearby Aero Market, 1609 Victory Blvd. in Glendale.)

The walk's destination, the Headworks Spreading Grounds, is a low-lying area on the south riverbank adjacent to Travel Town Museum on the Burbank edge of Griffith Park. The property is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has an easement there, permitting its use as a site for operation of ground-water recharging facilities.

Linton said there is an ongoing debate about whether to use the property for soccer fields or to build a wetlands-style ground-water spreading facility that would help restore the Valley's water supply.

"We need more of both in Los Angeles, and mixed use is possible," he said, citing Pan Pacific Park in mid-Wilshire as an example of how recreation facilities and water-control facilities can coexist. The walks conducted by the Friends organization are, to a certain extent, another example of "mixed use."

Strictly speaking, it is illegal to take a stroll along the portion of the river of Sunday's walk because it isn't a public recreational facility. But under the terms of the organization's permit to clean up the river, the Friends are allowed to conduct escorted walks at several such places on a monthly basis.

Participants on Sunday will see the river both wild and controlled. In some areas, there are trees growing just as they have been for 100 years, and ducks and herons making their homes there. There are also the grim cement riverbanks that help prevent flooding.

"Part of why we conduct these walks is to reveal the river in all its beauty, and even its imperfections," Linton said.

DETAILS

Los Angeles River Walk to Headworks Spreading Grounds, a nature walk along an overlooked but picturesque stretch of the L.A. River, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, conducted by the Friends of the Los Angeles River. Meet at the Riverside Bridge next to the Bette Davis Picnic Area, corner of Riverside Drive and Victory Boulevard on the Glendale border with Griffith Park. Free. For information about this event and other riverside walks, call (213) 381-3570.

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