A group of people will gather in a park today to chip away at the notion that concrete is the bane of nature.
The occasion could mark a watershed event -- literally -- in environmental thinking.
Regional and state officials will break ground for a state-of-the-art gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the nation's largest urban park.
The big draw will be a poured sample of "environmentally friendly" concrete that will be used to pave parking and walkway areas of the parkland on Mulholland Drive, just off of Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
It will be the first large-scale use of the material by a state agency in California, officials say.
"This is unbelievable stuff," said Stephanie Landregan, chief landscape architect for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which owns the new park. "It's just the coolest thing to watch water go right through it."
Environmentally friendly concrete may sound like an oxymoron, but environmentalists are going gaga over it, Landregan said.
It consists of dun-colored porous pavement that looks like a combination of soil and gravel. The difference is that it stays put--it doesn't "give" like dirt or crunch like gravel. And it looks natural, Landregan said. "If you didn't look too hard, you wouldn't realize that it's artificial."
Traditional concrete sheds water that in turn digs gullies or collects in puddles. Porous concrete allows water to percolate into the ground. It recharges ground water, prevents erosion, filters out harmful substances and, if it is used in urban settings, decreases the amount of water that flows uselessly to the ocean in storm sewers, Landregan said.
"This represents the merger of green infrastructure with traditional construction," she said.
The new 61-acre portal to the vast national recreation area straddling the Santa Monica Mountains has been chosen as a showcase for the new material. "This is the first state-sponsored project in California to do this," Landregan said. Porous concrete will be used to pave the mile-long entry road, a 70-car parking lot and walkways.
The new parkland is also important, officials said, because it will provide San Fernando Valley residents with easier access to the recreation area, which is a patchwork of parks stretching from Point Mugu in Ventura County to Griffith Park in Los Angeles.
Visitors from north of Mulholland currently have to make a long drive through winding Topanga Canyon to get to the most popular parts of the recreation area.
By next summer, the added parkland will allow nature lovers to zip south from the Ventura Freeway on a short stretch of Topanga Canyon Boulevard and be in the wilderness in record time.
"If you're not a big hiker or mountain biker, you might not want to go the long route," conservancy spokeswoman Dash Stolarz said. "This is a very easy-to-get-to place." The newly acquired land is surrounded on all sides by trails leading to the heart of the recreation area.
When visitors arrive at Mulholland Gateway Park, they'll be greeted by state-of-the-art facilities, including solar-powered lighting, self-composting restrooms and a half-mile interpretive nature trail accessible by wheelchair.
The land was purchased with $6 million in state funds from a voter-approved bond measure after years of efforts by activists to prevent residential development, Stolarz said.
Among the dignitaries expected to attend today's ceremony are state Resources Secretary Mary Nichols, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski.