parks—the mountain parks that are supposed to be for everyone—for the residents to enjoy them. And second, these neighborhoods suffer unconscionable deficiencies in park space.
When the MRCA came online in 1985, we launched a bus program to take community, church, and other groups from underserved areas to the mountain parks. Soon after, we helped create and fund the nonprofit Mountains Education Program, which enlarged the bus program to include trips for Title I schools (with largely low-income students). MEP also teamed up with L.A. Conservation Corps to offer two jobs programs for teens and young adults: Urban Naturalists In Training, to teach naturalist and ranger skills; and Build Youth, to hire for our construction crews. We couldn’t be more pleased that graduates have since gone on to major supervisory field positions at MRCA.
In the mid-90s, we gathered all these programs together under MRCA’s umbrella—just as we acquired our first overnight camp facility at Temescal Canyon, where one of our key goals was to expand our Title I outings to campouts. That’s when loads of fifth and sixth-graders began to sleep under the stars and roast marshmallows for the first time.
And park space in the city?
We jumped into building urban parks in the 1990s, with Augustus F. Hawkins Natural Park. Have you ever been to Hawkins, or Marsh Park, or Vista Hermosa Park? If not, then go!
The Hawkins story begins with a City Council meeting at which Councilperson Rita Walters accused SMMC of not providing parks for
Marsh Park - one of many MRCA urban parks in Los Angeles.
the Angelenos who need them most. We piled into a van with her shortly after, and toured her district in South Central to look for a site where we could do just that. We found an 8.5-acre DWP storage yard for used pipes, and all agreed we could do better there.
With Hawkins, we established core principles for our urban parks. We host barbecues and other community events to meet the neighbors, and work with the community to design the park. We hire from the community to build. We do state-of- the-art design. And we offer public programs . Hawkins is gorgeous. It features a rolling landscape, walking paths through native vegetation, lawn areas, a decorative fence, and an outdoor amphitheater—not to mention a Ranger Station with a resident Ranger. We established a Junior Ranger program, and offered regular campfire events (s’mores!). We see the opening of Hawkins in 2000 as one of MRCA’s finest moments.
We have since turned Hawkins and its programs over to the City of L.A. And while some skeptics doubted that a park could thrive in that area, our urban parks motto—good use
drives out bad use!—has generally proven to be sound. In 2008, we opened Vista Hermosa Park, just west of the 110 Freeway, in a low- income and exceptionally park-poor area. A 10.5-acre hillside of coastal chaparral, trails, grassy areas, and a waterfall, it’s a lovely haven in the shadow of the downtown skyscrapers. We’ve also expanded firmly into Compton—one of the most park-poor areas in the L.A. region. We partnered up with the school district to build the Compton Creek Outdoor Classroom next to Compton High School, and we’re now following that up with a 5-acre park and greenway on Compton Creek next to Washington Elementary School.
In the Spring 2011 issue of Symbiosis, we told you about our projects to create and manage accessways and just outright buy beach property to ensure public access to the Malibu beaches—the closest spots for many San Fernando Valley residents to set their towels down—for all L.A.-area residents. And the Summer issue recounted our exploits on the L.A. River, where we’ve been building parks and greenways in neighborhoods that desperately need them.
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