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. 























What the LA River Master Plan Could Mean for Access to Nature in LA

What the LA River Master Plan Could Mean for Access to Nature in LA

By Jason Wise

This Earth Month we have a unique opportunity to get involved in the effort to bring a new ribbon of nature, parks, and community to our area around the Los Angeles River.

The LA County Department of Public Works released a draft master plan that is set to guide development and restoration efforts along the entire 51-mile length of the River. The public is invited to send in comments, and Friends of the LA River set up an easy to use comment portal!

The concrete flood control channel that we see at the River today – running from Canoga Park in the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach and the Pacific Ocean – was once home to an entire river ecosystem of native plants and wildlife. For the Tongva/Gabrieleño/Kizh people who have called this area home for 8,000 years, this waterway was life, providing abundant resources that they protected and sustained by living in balance with Mother Earth.

Things began to change in the 1500s when European colonists arrived; more and more people moved to the area, throwing off the balance. After a devastating flood in 1938, the wild and moody LA River was paved over, destroying most of the ecosystem. But some wild remains, specifically the three distinct “soft bottom” areas of the River (Sepulveda Basin, Glendale Narrows, and the Long Beach Estuary) that couldn’t be fully paved over. Those areas provide a glimpse of a more natural past and can give us a lot of ideas for a more environmentally-friendly River future, one that balances plants and animals with the communities of people who live nearby. 

We believe there are many good elements to the existing master plan, but also a number of areas for improvement. We can use this plan to bring nature and green space back to neighborhoods that were stripped of it in 1938, while also ensuring those communities aren’t displaced in the process.

Now is a great time to get involved so that the opportunity to revitalize our River, and every living thing around it, isn’t wasted!

Take a look at the draft master plan (larivermasterplan.org), check out these two articles that discuss different aspects and concerns about the plan, and then head over the Friends of the LA River comment portal and  make your voice heard on this critical local environmental issue.

Jason Wise is a naturalist and outdoor educator who teaches young people about the wonders of nature and how to become advocates for the planet. He currently works for Friends of the LA River as an educator taking kids on virtual explorations of wild Southern California ecosystems