Who gets access to nature?

Who gets access to nature?

By Will McWhinney

Time spent in nature has been proven to offer many physical and psychological benefits. But in many cases those benefits aren’t available to those who don’t drive cars. That includes the impoverished and the disabled. 

The Sierra Club was founded with a mission to “render accessible” the mountain regions of the Pacific west. Locally, club entities such as Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) and the Central Group recruit volunteers and raise money to take poor children and visually impaired adults on mountain trips. These trips are necessarily limited in size and frequency, and by the tastes of the leaders. People from all walks of life should have opportunities to access nature on their own terms.

In 1911, when the Angeles Chapter was founded, anyone (with enough cash) could take a train up into the front range of San Gabriel Mountains. But travelling deeper into the range was very difficult due to lack of roads and trails. Nowadays, there are many more ways to visit nature but access is often limited to people who own and drive cars. 

Among the challenges to greater access are costs, reliability, and education. An initiative by U.S. Rep. Judy Chiu, D-Pasadena, will fund a shuttle from the Metro L Gold Line for some weekend trips to the top of Mt Wilson and trailheads along the way. Nature For All, which promotes access to the local mountains, is seeking a shuttle for Highway 39, following the San Gabriel River gorge. Because of the expense, these shuttles have to be heavily subsidized and so the programs struggle with steady funding. A shuttle which has received consistent support travels to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. However it has been unreliable. Micro Metro, an on-call service being tested in selected MTA areas, will take small groups to a few trailheads, including the Cobb Estate for the Sam Merrill Trail.

Access to trails on the edge of the urban core is uneven. Mass transit routes tend to avoid thinly populated areas, of course. Rideshare services can be expensive, unreliable, and complicated, especially for a group. The local paratransit service, ironically named Access, is limited to places with street addresses that are near mass transit routes, and is also unreliable. Small administrative changes to alter stops and routes, for example, could make near-urban nature much more accessible. Reliability is important because people need to trust that they’ll be dropped off and picked up again in the right place at the right time. 

Another challenge is educating the public about the access opportunities that exist, along with the basics of travel in nature. Providing that information should be relatively low-cost and low effort for transportation services and land managers. 

What can we do? Advocate to agencies to prioritize access to nature, and educate people about the opportunities where they exist. 























Green Space Benefits

Green Space Benefits

By Amanda Stemen

Climate change and mental health are two of the greatest areas of concern right now. This isn’t a mere coincidence given that our relationship with our environment greatly impacts our mental health and overall well-being. Time spent in nature, in any form, makes us feel happier, more peaceful, rejuvenated, and connected to something greater than ourselves. There’s good reason for this. Green space (E.g., plants, trees, grass, flowers) has been scientifically shown to heal our brains. We fatigue our brains with excessive directed attention, (Through urban living, busy lives, etc.) which causes actual brain damage, manifesting itself as heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Green space doesn’t require directed attention, allowing our brains to heal that damage. That’s why we feel better after spending some time outdoors, literally our brain has been healed.

Nature reduces stress and anxiety, decreases depression, improves overall mood, reduces anger, lessens symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, and addiction, improves information processing, focus, and memory, increases self-esteem and sense of empowerment, and boosts productivity and creativity. Nature also increases and improves our social connections, as well as decreases antisocial behaviors. Green space itself is directly linked to lower crime and economic growth, which improve our overall well-being, both as individuals and communities. Spending time in nature also improves sleep, decreases illness and recovery time from injury, reduces pain, improves cardiovascular and other body systems’ health, and is useful in weight loss and management. Moving our bodies in the outdoors further supports our physical and mental health. 

Since more and more people are living in urban environments and the availability of green space is decreasing worldwide, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to access the nature that provides these benefits. This is particularly problematic for those living in low-income areas (Who are already at a higher risk for poorer mental and physical health.) where there tend to be fewer parks, and existing ones aren’t always well maintained or safe to be in. Lack of easy access to nature, along with rapid advances in technology, can lead to forgetting our intimate connection to our environment. Taking care of our mental health is also something we rarely think about until we, or someone close to us, become ill.  Even then, it’s hard to know what to do and acting on any issue can sometimes feel so overwhelming that we don’t do anything. 

With all these benefits, we need to take what actions we can to preserve and create equitable green space access for all. It’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and once we’ve done that, educate those around us. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the benefits of availability and access to green space. Communicate with professional organizations and policy makers so that even if they’re educated on the issue, they realize that it’s also important to others. Most importantly, spend time in nature and encourage others to do the same, to physically demonstrate the value of such spaces. It all sounds so simple, yet it’s often the simplest acts that make the biggest difference. 

























Hidden Gems: 5 Los Angeles Parks that are Perfect for Earth Day

Hidden Gems: 5 Los Angeles Parks that are Perfect for Earth Day

By Amanda Stemen

One of the best things about the world shutting down in the last year has been that people are spending more time outdoors. In Los Angeles, this newfound appreciation for nature has also come with more difficulty finding open, uncrowded green space. But have no fear! For those of you who are looking to stay away from the crowds, either because of COVID or just wanting some peace and quiet, here are five hidden gem parks in L.A. just waiting for you to explore. Shhh, though, we don’t want everyone finding out about them.

Elyria Canyon Park

Hiking the trails of this park will make you feel as if you’ve been teleported to a magical land far from Los Angeles. Yet, its plant life is actually the native habitat of the hills of Mount Washington. While it’s mostly hiking trails, there are places to stop and picnic if you’d rather lounge around or take a break. There are also glimpses of downtown L.A., the L.A. River, and the Griffith Observatory to remind us we haven’t actually left at all; indeed, this magical space exists in the middle of a city.

Elysian Park

Elysian Park is actually one of the larger parks in Los Angeles and home to Dodger Stadium, yet it’s rarely crowded. It has many hiking trails to explore, open fields to gather with family and friends, hidden areas if you want to disappear for a bit, picnic tables, BBQs, and bathrooms – everything you need to have an adventure or chill out without having to travel a great distance. Also, the views of downtown and Dodger Stadium, especially at sunset, are unparalleled.

Lake Hollywood Park

Located in a neighborhood in the hills west of Griffith Park, this park is situated right below the Hollywood Sign, yet lacks any pretentiousness and is barely noticed, even among locals. It’s almost always empty with a large grassy space perfect for lying down and reading a book, giving your dog some exercise, or playing some outdoor games with kids or childlike adults. It’s also near Lake Hollywood Reservoir in case you want to walk, run, or bike around a body of water. (Unfortunately, you have to leave your dog at home for this one.)

South Los Angeles Wetlands Park

While there isn’t much open space to lounge about or play around in, South Los Angeles Wetlands Park is an innovative project in a historically underserved area of the city that is well worth checking out. A previous brownfield site was transformed into this park which uses urban runoff as a treatment-wetland sustaining resource. There are walking paths around the wetlands, perfect for viewing nature that has made this space its home.

Vista Hermosa Park

This park, right next to and overlooking downtown Los Angeles, has gotten more attention this past year, but is still worth visiting, especially if you’ve never been. Pretty well hidden in historic Filipinotown, this park has walking trails, streams, meadows, bunches of trees, a nature-themed playground, nearby soccer field, and an amphitheater.

Amanda Stemen is a member of the Sierra Club, as well as a licensed outdoor therapist and writer who loves to spend time in Los Angeles’ parks.

Corralitas Public Stairway

Corralitas Public Stairway

The Verdugo Hills group in conjunction with the central group are working to beautify the Corralitas stairway. Saturday October 27th at 9:30 am we had Glendale College students working in the garden. This stairway is right next to the red car property and our eventual goal is for that to be a park/community garden. Something other than another building! See the full photo album here.