Best surprising green space in the city? These South L.A. wetlands

A mural of Maya Angelou
A mural of Maya Angelou overlooks South Los Angeles Wetlands Park.
(Photo illustration by Micah Fluellen; Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

By Mary Forgione

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Am I the only one who didn’t know about the wetlands in South Los Angeles? Last weekend I was invited to what I would call a curated park cleanup: Show up, pick up tools or garbage bags, dial into a conference call, and learn a little about the park through earbuds while you pick up trash — no contact required.


I went because the cleanup was held in South Los Angeles Wetlands Park, a place I had never heard of, at 5413 S. Avalon Blvd. As wetlands go, this one is a convincing imposter, described in a 2012 media account as “carved out from the industrial tundra of South Los Angeles.”

As I gazed at the water below the dirt footpath lined with bay trees and bush sunflowers, I spied night heron in the tall grasses, Western gulls and mallard ducks in the water, and turtles sunning on the rocks.

But that’s only part of the magic of this former bus and rail yard-turned-wetlands. Stormwater from L.A.’s streets flows underground into a treatment facility and circulates in the park’s pools, stripping it of oil and dirt, before the clean water heads into the L.A. River and on to the ocean. A pretty neat way to turn runoff into habitat.

The community seems to like it too. The day I was there, people walked and ran on the path, lingered at observation areas on bridges over the water, and picnicked amid the sycamore trees.

On one side of the park, a mural of Maya Angelou keeps an eye out from a school that bears her name. On a nearby corner, Avalon Nursery & Ceramics sells plants and garden supplies to the South Park neighborhood it has served for more than three decades.

I managed to fill a garbage bag (discarded face masks and red Swisher cigar wrappers topped my list of items retrieved) and loved seeing the innovative urban wetlands. The event was organized by the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter, which may host similar cleanups that inform (at a distance) and keep us connected to L.A.’s existing parks and re-greened places.

Three things to do this week

Hondo Canyon and Hoyt Mountain
(Photo illustration by Micah Fluellen; Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

1. Two hikes to put on your to-do list this weekend. Some hiking trails are best visited in winter because they’re too hot in summer. Here are my picks that keep you close to home.

Hondo Canyon Trail, Santa Monica Mountains: This leafy canyon winds uphill through meadows lined with native oaks and California bay trees as it leaves Old Topanga Road. It’s a pretty, rolling hike that pops out at a wide intersection of Saddle Peak, Schueren and Stunt roads. Suddenly you’ll see ocean views off Malibu — and maybe enter the Land of Lamborghinis. (Last Sunday, I saw several of the Italian sportscars and a Corvette parked on pullouts facing multimillion-dollar homes on nearby ridges.) Cross the intersection and continue on the trail toward high towers and Saddle Peak, which you can scale on a side trail. It’s a 7.6-mile trail, one way, with about 2,300 feet of gain.

Hoyt Mountain, Angeles National Forest: You’ve probably driven past this peak hundreds of times without noticing it. There are several routes to take, but I like the trail from Clear Creek Junction at the intersection of Angeles Forest and Angeles Crest highways, 9 miles north of La Cañada Flintridge. There’s parking and an open bathroom at the start. Hike into the canyon toward George’s Gap, which mostly goes downhill until you reach an intersection with the Hoyt Mountain Trail. In a mile, you arrive at a wide dirt road; take the steep narrow trail on the left to the top. You’ll be surprised at the good views of DTLA from this 4,400-foot vantage point. It’s about 2½ miles, one way, with 1,500 feet of gain.

L.A. City Forest Officer Rachel Malarich
(City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works


2. Meet L.A.’s first city forest officer during a virtual Q&A session. Rachel Malarich is L.A.’s forest officer, responsible for planting and maintaining 90,000 trees by the end of 2021 and planting 20,000 trees every subsequent year. Malarich also oversees the Tree Canopy Lab, which looks at population density, land use, etc., to better understand the leafy needs of the city’s 500 square miles. She has been speaking on a variety of tree topics at virtual Lunch and Learn sessions during the pandemic. Malarich will talk about selecting native trees for our urban forest at 12:30 to 1 p.m. Jan. 27; follow the link to join.

Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort, during night skiing.
(Big Bear Mountain Resort)

3. Go on a night ski or snowboard run at SoCal resorts. Local resorts received snow this week and are open on selected nights. All-day lift tickets don’t include after-hours skiing, so you’ll need a separate ticket in advance for sessions. Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs hosts night skiing on Friday and Saturday nights ($35 to $49); Big Bear Mountain in Big Bear Lake, which received 6 inches of snow Tuesday, offers night sessions Fridays and Saturdays in January ($90 for an adult ticket); and Mountain High offers night sessions Wednesdays through Sundays for $49 to $55. (Prices for children and seniors too.)

The must-read

Katharine Hayhoe
Katharine Hayhoe, a director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, is among the researchers leading an awareness campaign about climate change.
(Katharine Hayhoe)

Move over, soccer moms. Science Moms are on the way — and they have an important climate message for you and your children. The $10 million ad campaign puts moms who are scientists into the living rooms of America to explain why global warming is an urgent concern for families. The campaign seeks to cut through the nay-sayers and speak “directly to mothers and let them know this is a threat to their kids,” Colorado State University climate scientist Emily Fischer told the L.A. Times. “The kids they make sandwiches for, the kids who crawl into their beds at night, the kids who drive them crazy sometimes. To those kids. Not someone else’s kids.”

Recent polling shows 66% of Americans care about global warming, a number that one survey says jumps to 85% among mothers. TV and digital ads initially will run in Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin for the next six months. Read the whole story about Science Moms here.

Cool stuff

Kind bar
Kind is offering nutrition consultations.

Kind bars want to match you with a nutritionist for a 15-minute free session. The idea is to help people understand nutrition education and resources as the “country continues to face an unprecedented health crisis,” according to the Kind RD Connect website.

Here’s how it works: Sign up online with your name and email address. In return, a list of nutritionists and a synopsis of their specialties appear. You choose one for the free consult — and decide whether you want to pay to continue beyond the initial consult.

I don’t know how much nutritional goal-setting you can do in a quarter of an hour, but this may be a way to get some answers to questions you may have about diet and food. Kind is giving away 3,000 free sessions as part of the campaign. Click here to sign up.

By the way, Kind, founded in 2004 as a healthy snack alternative, is being acquired by Mars, the company that makes M&Ms and Snickers.

The red flag

The 2019 King of the Hammers festival in Johnson Valley.
(Bureau of Land Management)

Californians who are hunkering down, wearing masks and sticking close to home may be surprised to learn that an off-road desert competition north of Joshua Tree will take place Jan. 28 through Feb. 6 despite the state’s stay-at-home mandate. Huh? King of the Hammers, described as part Burning Man and part “Mad Max,” was given a green light by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, the Bureau of Land Management and the California Highway Patrol.

“Despite state guidance ‘strongly’ discouraging travelers from coming to California for nonessential purposes, racers, pit crews and fans from across the country will converge in Southern California, where the coronavirus is particularly rampant, before returning to their respective home states,” L.A. Times staff writer and Essential California newsletter author Julia Wick writes in a column. Organizers say they are expecting smaller than usual crowds. OK, but does this event need to happen during such a dangerous time?

“Yes, the event goes against state guidelines, but it will be put on with the active involvement of a state law enforcement agency,” Wick writes. “Meanwhile, elected officials continue to push messages of do-your-part personal responsibility as our hospital system teeters at the breaking point.” Read the full story here, and sign up here to get Wick’s Essential California newsletter.


Big Bear Lake eagles' nest
The Big Bear Lake eagles’ nest appears to be abandoned.
(Screenshot from Friends of Bear Valley webcam)

Last week, I wrote about the pair of bald eagles at Big Bear Lake that lost an egg to ravens. Then a second egg appeared, which offered hope of a spring chick. Turns out, the second one was abandoned and again eaten by ravens. On Wednesday, the webcam showed an empty nest — no eggs, no eagles — amid a soft dusting of snow. Not sure what will happen next, but I’ll be watching.

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Click to view the web version of this newsletter and share it with others, and sign up to get it sent weekly to your inbox. I’m Mary Forgione, and I write The Wild. I’ve been exploring trails and open spaces in Southern California for four decades.

Mary Forgione