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. 























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.