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Berlitz Summer Camp
by Karen Hilfman
For generations, parents have introduced their children to classical music with Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” – a charming children’s story with symphonic accompaniment. In the same way, Rio de Los Angeles State Park is an excellent introduction to nature and nature walks. The park’s restored wetlands habitat is just the right size and scope for little ones to navigate and appreciate, and a perfect complement to the park’s playground activities.
Rio de Los Angeles is California’s newest and smallest state park, developed on what used to be an abandoned railroad yard north of downtown L.A. and south of residential Glassell Park. In 2001 a coalition of community, environmental, business and faith-based groups wrested the land from developers, through a legal challenge, quashing plans for an industrial warehouse and commercial project on the site. The State Parks acquired the land soon after, and wetlands restoration began in 2004 with the planting of 250 native trees and 600 plants.
Named for the nearby Los Angeles River, the park opened on Earth Day in 2007. Currently the park is separated from the river by a chain-link fence and operational railroad track. Plans exist for an extension, however, for riverfront access in the future.
The wetlands habitat features an easy half-mile path through swathes of native grasses and sycamore, oak, willow and cottonwood trees. Other native and non-native plants abound, with eye-catching color popping out here and there. You can see sunflowers and roses, yellow star thistle and fennel. There are golden poppies and pink Mexican Primrose. Just spotting a colorful bloom, or smelling the sage and fennel, can be fun for children.
The trail is flat, stroller-friendly and wide enough for three or four people abreast. You may also spot insects and birds along the way, perhaps a monarch butterfly, a dragonfly, a white-throated swift or black phoebe. Older children can wander off path into the “wilderness” to explore. For parents who want to engage their children in the love of nature and exploration, Rio de Los Angles is an excellent starting place. Share your enthusiasm, point out the flowers, birds and butterflies. Touch and smell things together. Feel the stillness the surrounding city can’t penetrate.
Adults often reflect on the empty, overgrown lots they played in as kids. Do you remember when the San Fernando Valley was farmland? Urban wilderness is hard to come by in the 21st century; most spots have been paved over and built up. Where I grew up the wild patch behind my backyard was called “The Weeds.” To the neighborhood kids it was as exotic and as full of adventure as the African bush. Now it’s a parking lot. With concrete and asphalt so pervasive, opportunities to discover and explore in nature are not as accessible as they used to be. Rio de Los Angeles is at the ready.
Children generally enjoy new experiences in the context of something familiar and fun. At least my daughter did. Like the orchestra in “Peter and the Wolf,” introduced around a story, the wetlands habitat is a short walk from park’s state-of-the-art playground area. Be sure to fold in a visit. You’ll hear the squealing and laughter as you approach. There’s a swing set, plus two age-appropriate play structures – one for 2- to 5-year-olds, with a sand bottom, the other for 5- to 12- year-olds.
The piece de resistance is an eco-friendly, smart splash pad for water play and cooling off during the summer months. Small feet activate the spigots and sprays, from mid-June to early September, when the temperature reaches 75 degrees (call in June and September to confirm operation dates). The park has plenty of bathroom space for changing diapers, changing into bathing suits, or out of wet clothes.
Between the wetlands and playground are grassy areas for picnicking, cartwheeling and kite flying. Picnic tables with charcoal grills are available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don’t want to picnic, there are plenty of child-friendly restaurants nearby. The 45-acre facility also includes soccer fields, baseball and softball diamonds, tennis and basketball courts.
Although relatively small, the 3.6 acre wetland habitat is on the Sierra Club’s radar. By the end of 2011, Sierra Club volunteers had catalogued 30 different plant species and approximately nine bird species making the park their home. The club also leads guided walks and efforts to remove the non-native invasive plants. The park is in the city. You may not feel like you’ve left town. But your children will, and you’ll enjoy the experience with them.
Rio de Los Angeles State Park, 1900 San Fernando Road, L.A.
Hours: 9: a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Admission and Parking: Free
Sierra Club Natural Science Section Leader Judith Anderson leads guided walks and can be contacted at email@example.com for a schedule.
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Terrific place to introduce the kids to nature and the outdoors. I'm 'auntie' to my niece's children -- so much fun to introduce a new generation to plants, animals, trees and climate.
by Peat O'Neil
Silver Spring, MD
10/14/2012 - 01:21 pm