The old cemetery on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights has long compelled people to travel its borders.
Not much deters its devotees: the young people running with purpose, seniors fast-walking at dawn or mothers working out while pushing baby strollers.
However, the poor condition of the sidewalks around the cemetery, uprooted by ficus trees or cracked by weather, can be a challenge. The stretches of concrete--with undulating peaks--seem more suitable to skateboard stunts than to walking or running.
“You’ll be walking and suddenly, ‘Ay, ay, ay!’ There’s a little cliff,” said Maria Rosales.
But people like Rosales come by the hundreds every day.
That’s why Boyle Heights native James Rojas two months ago pressed forward with a dream: Why not build a jogging trail around Evergreen Cemetery, which is bounded by Cesar Chavez and Evergreen avenues and Lorena and 1st streets. It would be a track with a soft surface, landscaping and night lights.
“It wouldn’t just help people exercise, it would beautify the community,” said Rojas, a transportation planner.
The idea has drawn enthusiastic support from residents and groups like the Trust for Public Land and the Friends of the Los Angeles River.
Last week, members of the community group that Rojas helped create--the Latino Urban Forum--began circulating petitions in Boyle Heights. Apart from having the support of several businesses--from meat markets to pinata makers--there is strong backing from residents and at least one parish.
Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco has expressed support for the idea and has even mentioned securing some money for the effort, said his press deputy, Alex Cruz.
“It’s a strange idea, but it’s a good one,” said Carlos Aguilar as he speed-walked to salsa music. The 71-year-old retired construction worker started walking two years ago after a doctor told him his health was in danger.
Every day, hundreds of people walk or jog past the faded tombstones of Evergreen Cemetery, which was established in 1877.
For some, an attractive trail around the Eastside landmark would do more than help get them in shape; it would help shape up a neighborhood often scarred by graffiti and crime.
“The bad element would see more people from the community out there, being more visible and aware of their surroundings,” said Mary Lou Trevis, president of the Mothers of East Los Angeles community group. For Trevis, a track could help tackle other problems in the Latino community, including obesity and diabetes.
It’s not as if there aren’t any parks nearby; Hollenbeck Park is about two miles away. It’s just that they don’t offer what the cemetery does.
For one thing, a person can travel the 1 1/2 miles around the cemetery without ever having to stop or cross a street. And people don’t have to deal with dogs or other hassles.
Every weekday just before 8 a.m., Rosales, 45, her sisters Karina Rodriguez, 19, and Martina Rodriguez, 37, and niece Rosa Sanchez meet at Evergreen and Cesar Chavez avenues to do at least three laps around the cemetery--about 4 1/2 miles. Karina’s 13-month toddler Samantha rides peacefully in her stroller.
Rosales said she does have some concerns.
“A lot of people don’t take care of things,” she said, standing near a graffiti-scarred fence. “Instead of caring for things, they destroy them. Why waste money if people aren’t going to care for it?”