By the time BJ Kincler got her horse, Dusty Roads, the city of Glendale had closed off the horse pen behind her apartment along the Los Angeles River, leaving the buckskin equine with nowhere nearby to kick up her heels.
But on Wednesday, Dusty Roads played around in new equestrian facilities open to the public for the first time after city officials unveiled Phase 1 of the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk.
"She's really happy," Kincler said as the horse ran in circles, stopping to lick a few apple treats from Kincler's palm.
It took about a decade to complete the first phase, a $2.1-million project that includes horse facilities, park areas and a half-mile trail along the Los Angeles River that begins near Paula Avenue and Garden Street.
Despite years of funding and construction snags, officials told about 130 people at the grand opening event that the next two phases should be completed much more quickly.
"It's been like herding cats, but we got everyone together," said Joanne Hedge, a Glendale resident who helped get others on board with the planning more than a decade ago.
Next up is a trail bridge over a storm drain near DreamWorks Animation at Flower Street, which will be paid for with a $975,000 state grant. The first phase has been covered mostly by state grants and money from Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.
A footbridge over the Los Angeles River to connect to Griffith Park is slated to cap off the overall project, but a funding plan is still in the works.
"We just can't have our little Phase 1 and Phase 2. We have to make this a river-length park," said Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian.
Bicyclists testing the trail for the first time this week agreed.
"It's really a battle to get on your bike in L.A.," said Glendale resident Joan Hardie as she sat on her turquoise bicycle with a woven basket. "It's nice to have a little oasis like this."
Along the trail, the sounds of the river mix with traffic whirring by along the Golden State (5) Freeway above. Interpretive signs and drought-resistant plants line the paved trail on both sides, yet graffiti remains under the overpass.
Despite the bits of vandalism, the changes are a huge improvement, parkgoers said. Neighbors described the area before the new trail and park areas came in as "trash" and "God forsaken." Now, they use words like "beautiful" and "magnificent."
"From what it was, it's a huge improvement," said Rachel Torres, a Glendale resident who was excited to walk her dog, Luke, near the river. When the third phase is complete, she envisioned taking the Great Dane/Shar-Pei mix over to Griffith Park.
Gene Gleeson, an avid cyclist from Glendale, had been coming down to the trail opening for weeks to check on its progress. He said seeing the construction on the first phase was like watching the freeways being built decades ago — one section at a time.
"We're hoping for it to become a whole system," he said.