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Image by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Non-motorized boating pilot program comes to an end

LOS ANGELES — When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District, granted a license in July for a seven week non-motorized boating pilot program on the Los Angeles River, the Los Angeles Conservation Corps quickly booked the allotted tours.

“It took about 10 minutes for the 280 tickets to sell, once we posted the announcement on line,” said Yasmin Mero-Corona, program coordinator, Los Angeles Conservation Corps. “We had another 300 on a waiting list to fill any no-shows. One gentleman stood by with his check every weekend until we had a cancellation for him to fill,” Mero-Corona added.

The test program allowed for no more than two trips per day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning August 12 and ending September 25. The program was as much about education as it was access, with many of the tours featuring guest speakers, including Corps personnel, talking about the history of the river and plans for its revitalization.

The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority supervised the two-hour canoe and kayak trips covering a 1.5-mile stretch of the river. While most of the trip is a leisurely ride the ‘Cattail Shoot’ provides a bit of excitement as the staff helps participants and their vessels through a narrow, shallow shoot and one portage point, ‘Rocky Rapids,’ that requires boaters to exit their crafts and navigate the rocks on foot.

“A mentor of mine when I was a biologist at New York District was fond of saying, touch the resource. That’s what accessing the river is to so many urban dwellers in Los Angeles,” said Josephine Axt, Chief, Planning Division, Los Angeles District, during her tour September 16.

“Even though there are nearby mountains where people can enjoy the outdoors, their day to day experience doesn’t usually encourage or encompass much of a non-urban environment. Accessing the river is symbolic of a shared vision many LA residents have of the city embracing a more sustainable future,” added Axt.

For many boaters these trips represented their first access to the river and their enthusiasm was not tied to their skill level.

“The participants were nervous at first because for many adults, this was the first time on a canoe or kayak,” said Supervising Ranger III, Fernando Gomez. “However, at the end of the trip, they wanted more and some even said they were going to go out and buy a kayak to continue their experience, not on the LA River of course. For the skilled kayakers, they walked away with the surprise of how beautiful and calming the trip was,” Gomez added.

The Corps is an active partner in revitalizing and preserving the Los Angeles River, however, an important primary mission remains.

“I must be clear, nothing we do can jeopardize human safety or reduce the flood carrying capacity of this river,” said Col. Mark Toy, Los Angeles District Commander, during his opening remarks for the inaugural tour Aug. 8.

Now that the non-motorized boating pilot program has ended, no boating is authorized on the Los Angeles River. The river can, very quickly, become extremely dangerous, especially during the general winter storm season.

The Corps will review trip reports and lessons learned from staff and participants. Working with the stakeholders the Corps will carefully consider all options for boating on the Los Angeles River in future years.