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Former Duck Farm to Become Park

Times Staff Writer

The stench is gone, and so are the ducks.

The last of them were loaded onto trucks and moved up north three years ago, ridding travelers on the San Gabriel River Freeway of smells that made the Woodland Duck Farm a landmark of sorts.

Travel agent John Valerio remembers how his son, Joseph, would react when he got a whiff as they traveled on the freeway toward their home in nearby Hacienda Heights.

“We’re almost home,” he’d say. And the smell was even worse when it rained.

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A more verdant future, however, is in store for the defunct 3-million-ducks-a-year farm. The 57-acre tract alongside the San Gabriel River will soon become a sorely needed park. Its purchase by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land represents the first phase of the organization’s commitment to build 25 parks in some of the most underserved areas of Los Angeles County over the next five years.

The park will stretch for almost two miles along the river, offering recreation, trails and the starting point for a 30-mile bike and equestrian path that will end in Seal Beach.

“We’re thrilled,” said Belinda Faustinos, the executive officer of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, which will run the park with the county Department of Public Works. “If it hadn’t been for the tenacity to acquire this open space, we wouldn’t be here. We were finally able to put all the pieces together.”

Reed Holderman, vice president and regional director for the Trust for Public Land’s western region, said the park represents a significant step toward giving more children in Los Angeles County a place to play. He said two-thirds of county children do not live within walking distance of a park, playground or other safe place to play.

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“This is our way of saying we’re trying to do something about it,” he said. “The truth is that Los Angeles is way behind other cities in providing parks for kids. They deserve to play sports, have a picnic with their families or just have a place to play.”

The Trust for Public Land, using private philanthropic funds, purchased the farm in 2001 for $3.2 million from owner Richard Woodland. The duck business had been good to Woodland, who said his business grew and profited from the culinary tastes of the burgeoning Asian community. He now owns a vineyard in Paso Robles and dabbles in real estate.

The new park will serve the surrounding communities of La Puente, El Monte, Irwindale, Baldwin Park, City of Industry, Bassett, Pico Rivera and Hacienda Heights, which together have a population of about 600,000 people.

Last week, a celebration also marked the fifth anniversary of the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, which was created by the state Legislature in 1999 to preserve open space for recreation, education, and habitat restoration and protection.

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The duck farm transformation is in keeping with the conservancy’s plan to rehabilitate 150 areas along the San Gabriel River. A variety of projects are planned, including restoring vegetation and building bike and hiking trails.

As for Valerio, he said he once stopped at the duck farm and bought two ducklings around Easter. One was named Boris, the other Natasha. Boris led a long and happy life. Natasha, alas, could not escape a neighbor’s cat.


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